Lessons from Blogging: Blogging and Mental Health

So the Month of Writing didn’t happen, and it’s not looking good for this month either.

All advice to new bloggers focuses on regularity of posting and consistency of content. This blog is eclectic at best and irratic at most. Thus, my apologies to you generous souls who have taken the time to read, like, comment and follow this blog. You are greatly appreciated by me.

For a young woman who was drowning in depression at the beginning of the year, who felt she had no voice and nothing to add to the mass of information media, the past few months have been astounding. Thank you for being part of a blogging experience that has led to increased confidence and value of self.

Benefits of Blogging for Mental Health

I have posted a few times in the past about the benefits of Blogging and Creative Writing for mental health.

For me, blogging provides a  space for focused reflection and increased freedom of expression. It can be a platform to help you feel connected rather than isolated through your thoughts and writing.

The anonymity of an unpersonalised site, such as this one, can help you feel secure enough to explore the personal, whilst keeping the most intimate details – the when, where, who – private. You are in control of sharing your experience and choosing to reveal your blogging identity to others.

This security for exploration and expression can build strength and self worth and empower others to reflect on, or even share, their experiences.

Blogging Challenges 

There were (well, are) two main difficulties I encountered when I started to seriously consider blogging.

1) Anxiety.

It can be very daunting to put anything online for the world to see (coupled with the worry that no one in that world is looking). This feeling may decrease or diminish over time, but personally, I still get an adrenaline rush before I press ‘publish’ and I am always editing and agonising over individual words and phrases (even after publishing!).

2) Consistency.

To be frank, that I jump about with the topics I cover doesn’t really concern me. This blog was always intended to be a personal exploration, and as I detailed in the post Dreaming of the Temple, I deliberately chose the name because of the scope I felt it had for content.

I do, however, find myself getting a bit jittery if I haven’t posted for a while.

Partially, this is because I really enjoy blogging, it has become my cathartic hobby, but also due to concern for blogging reality.

There is so much information media that without regular new content even the most dedicated visitors to your blog (again, thank you!) will slip away and your site will lose interest. This introduces yet another pressure for those who are trying to use blogging as part of a process of healing.

It is challenging, especially for those affected by ill mental health, to maintain an established posting frequency. This may be due to a whole range of personal life factors; a new/additional job or increased workload, a change in circumstances or situation, or any other element that you feel impacts upon your ability to post at the time or frequency you had intended.

Stop the Vicious Cycle

I have yet to encounter anyone who has not, at some point, felt that they should have done something differently, or better. But the truth is, for most of us, most of the time, what we did was the best that we could do in that particular moment, in that particular situation, with that amount of time, and those resources.

Consequently, we all need to stop telling ourselves that we could do better. This results in the negative Thought Spiral  that culminates with us not only beating ourselves up over the unchangeable past, but also being pessimistic about the future.

Stemming from the idea ‘I should have done that better’, leading to the notion ‘I should be better’, resulting in unrealistic, unmotivated targets that we then beat ourselves up for not achieving and perpetuating the cycle.

Whilst I am confident that if you truly have an element of yourself or your life that you are eager to work on or improve, that you will achieve your goal, it needs to be a positively motivated change to succeed. The cycle described above is not positive. It drains your energy and diminishes your capacity to achieve your goal.

This is my most recent lesson from blogging. 

Whatever your motivation for blogging, personal or business, it can be tough going in the beginning. To develop a voice, a niche and a sense of regularity. Therefore, you need to enjoy it. Blogging can be stressful but also great fun. Let it be fun.

I was getting jittery because I didn’t post at all last week. My mum and her partner came up from England to help us decorate four rooms ready for the new arrival. It was fast-paced but we did it. I was in what my colleague refers to as the ‘dormouse phase’ when the developing baby makes you want to sleep all the time. At times, the pavement has looked quite comfortable!

I was exhausted, covered in paint and had no clue what to write about. I felt I had lost my voice, I had nothing to say, and that this was it for me and blogging.

However, as with anything else creative, it needs and takes time. It’s not something that you can knock out in 5 minutes, it usually takes me 2 hours to just draft a post that I am content with. It isn’t something that you can force or squeeze into a tea break. The more pressure you feel the harder it will seem. Take a walk, a deep breath, and suddenly something will spark inspiration. Let it be fun.

Catching Happiness

Patter patter patter
Patter patter patter
Pounce!

Tail wagging, lips
Pulled back
Like a
big smile,

My dog has chased, flicked and
Found
Her ball. 

She reminds me of the importance
Of being pleased
With the simplest actions

Of how
Happiness can be so easy
To find
If only we stop looking so far away.

Happiness is right here.

In this muddy field,
She knows it.
She found it.
She caught it.

Lassie does a form of victory lap every time she catches her ball. She almost never brings it straight back, she always does a small semi-circular run first. She chases the ball, picks it up and loops back to me to repeat the action all over again.

I like the repetition. I think it is good for me.

I am taking time away from my computer screen, from reading and words, from work, and playing with a creature who is full of the purest joy.

It is routine.
It is simple.
I am focused on one task.

For someone who struggles with clearing her mind and disentangling her thoughts from her worries, to be able to focus on just throwing a ball for half an hour is very calming.
My mind is free and unharassed thoughts lead to creativity.
I have written a poem, a post, out here in the open air.

This is my hobby.
This is my happiness.
My dog has led me here.

If I stop trying to move beyond this moment and instead enjoy being in it, I can catch my own happiness.

Stop.
Walk.
Wonder.
Breathe.

Pause long enough for happiness to catch up with you.

Resilience

I am a child of the Earth
Ever adapting
You can hurl meteors at me
But I will keep on going –
Tear out chunks of me
And I will make the scars beautiful
Like the moon.
I can be volcanic or cold
It depends which part of me
You decide to behold.

Bumps in the Marital Road

Last Saturday was my first Saturday off in six months. With my husband working 9 to 5 or sometimes longer on his PhD project at the university and the emphasis placed to spend Sundays at church and religious activities, when I work weekends it really limits the quality time we get to spend together.

It has been showing.

We got married when we were both students and our schedules were all over the place for the first year of our life together. We agreed that, as it was Samuel’s Masters year and because he worked seasonally at the supermarket which would have meant missing our first Christmas as a married couple, he would stop working. I continued to work as I had been at my storytelling job for 4 years already, it was relevant to my degree and it gave me continuity and routine which helped the with severe mental illness I was experiencing at the time. Before the harassment started, my place of work was were I went for grounding. The office is underground so there was no signal and it gave me an excuse not to be contactable. To not respond when I was feeling overwhelmed. When I couldn’t cope. My place of work means an unusual amount to me.

Summer 2017 was a very intense time for our marriage. We’d been married for a year and were in a good place but we were done living in a one bedroom flat in the middle of the city. It was advertised as one bed, but really should have been one person, as we couldn’t both be in the kitchen at the same time if we wanted to have a bin as well. So we started looking at houses. We didn’t imagine that we would actually be able to buy, it’s famed that no one our age can. But we wanted to daydream at the very least.

We got lucky.

But we were £3,000 short of the deposit. So I started working 3 jobs. It was crazy. One of them was my long term storytelling job, one was at a concert hall and the other was in a museum. It was meant to be a straightforward visitor service job, but morphed into tour guiding and helping arrange a summer activities program which provided really great unexpected work experience. So it was a really beneficial, as well as crazy, time. I decided/insisted that as I was working so much (most of it very relevant to what I was hoping to do following graduation) and Samuel was likely to be starting a PhD three months later, that he shouldn’t work. He needed a break, someone needed to keep on top of the housework, and if we throw a fourth schedule into the mix, we just wouldn’t have seen each other. As it was we saw each other first thing in the morning and for about half an hour before we went to sleep.

We made it.

We bought a house. Now the situation is reversed. I am on reduced hours, just ticking over at my storytelling job, which I still love but is no longer my safe place. As a physicist, Samuel’s PhD is funded, so whilst he is technically studying, it is fundamentally a job. He works very hard and is extremely good at what he does. Our subject areas compliment each other very well. I find it highly appropriate that both our birthdays are in January, the month named after the Roman god Janus. Janus was depicted with two heads, because he looked forward and backwards. As an archaeologist I look back to the very beginnings of humans as a species and Samuel, being an experimental physicist working on technology, is looking forward. It also gives me confidence about at least one aspect of us potentially becoming parents – we have homework covered. Our other running joke is that Samuel does the numbers and I deal with words. Sorted.

Our issue is that because of all the studying, the crazy summer jobs and the recent house move, we have never really got into an established routine. We are beginning to get there now but we still haven’t quite found our rhythm. As we are approaching our second anniversary, and with the addition of our dear dog, this is starting to apply a little bit of friction. As far as I am aware this is healthy and usual in all relationships let alone marriage. We are definitely benefiting from no longer being in that one bedroom flat, as we can now be more than 5 meters apart and means I can be less distracting whilst Samuel is working and I can read my book quietly whilst Samuel watches television (Samuel is severely dyslexic so you wont find us reading together).

As a result of not having a stable, consistent rhythm to our daily routines, we have become very snappy. We haven’t fought or had slanging matches but as I say there has been some friction. I think that’s the right term. No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes and get irritated from time to time. One of my biggest flaws is my temper, so I definitely get irritated more than is reasonable. I am very grateful not only for my husband’s patience and ability to forgive when I fly off the handle but for our ability to communicate with each other. As we got married so quickly, I don’t think that we would have managed if we weren’t able to talk about anything and everything. As I always say, we don’t necessarily recommend getting married three months after meeting, but it is working for us. We are truly very happy together. The importance of communication is made evident in every sit-com, film production and in most real life scenarios. Whole plots of plays, books, tragedies and comedies begin with a miscommunication, failure to communicate or a double meaning.

Having last Saturday off was amazing for us. Even though I was unwell with the flu, headlining fever, dizziness and nausea (how have I managed to come down with this twice this year? There have only been two months thus far?!) so we didn’t go anywhere or do very much, yet still it gave us some space to just be us. I was actually supposed to be off volunteering in central Scotland so being ill was perhaps a blessing in disguise? I described our morning in yesterday’s post. It was bliss. What really made the difference was that we didn’t have to be anywhere. We had to take our dog for a walk but other than that we had the day to ourselves. Usually one or other of us is rushing around in the morning and heading out to work. On Saturday, we could just be together and enjoy each others company.

This weekend was a big lesson for me in the importance of making time for each other. Compromise and communication are as important as everyone says they are in marriage or any other relationship. Let’s face it they are important principles in friendship as well. But the concept of date night is something that I will certainly be paying more attention to from here on.

Why Does the Ice Cream Van Drive at Night?

Well I said I would give free writing a go. It’s been long time since I have tried this prewriting technique. It was fun although I’m not sure how I feel about the outcome. What I have actually done here is termed focused free writing. It is as liberated as free writing but is based on a specific topic rather than seeing where your thoughts take you.

Last night I really did let the dog out into the garden, hear an ice cream van and decide for to focus on a question that has puzzled me for a very long time.  I must confess though to still not having an answer.

Why does the ice cream van drive around at night?
The air is cold and draughty,
The wind pinches with frost
It blows the promise of snow from the sea.
I open the door and let
The dog out into the garden.

It is cold and icy outside
The spring flowers are quivering
Snow is expected any day now
But the sound of Greensleeves
Comes gliding over the fence.
Why does the ice cream van drive around at night?

It’s dark outside
The lights are on
The children are in bed
There’s no one around to buy ice cream
They’re indoors with hot chocolate instead.

Greensleeves slides around the neighbourhood
Past the garden, round the back
Leaves rustle, a fox barks
Far away an owl hoots.
Why does the ice cream van drive around at night? 

Waiting for the Sun to Shine

I woke up with all the typical bad day signs. I was lethargic, slow to get out of bed and get going this morning. I took the dog for her morning walk and although it was a beautiful day, the sun was streaming, flowers were blooming and sparrows were jumping about in the hedges I just couldn’t let myself enjoy it. Lassie (our Border Collie) had a great roll around in the spring grass, kicking her legs up in the air, but this time I couldn’t catch her enthusiasm.

It’s been a while since I felt like this. It’s the same sensation as when you are on the verge of catching a cold. You’re limbs are heavy, your movements and thought processes are slow and it feels like your head is full of cotton wool. You will undoubtedly have seen cartoon characters with rain clouds hovering above their heads, following them wherever they go, and that isn’t far from how I feel. Instead of hovering above my head though, the cloud is inside it, forming a barrier around my brain, like heavy grey mud, clinging to my thoughts and dragging them down.

I remember the first time I realised that I really might be suffering from depression. I was writing an essay for one of my university courses and I had been slogging away at it for days. I was making no progress, two days and the word count stayed around the 1,500 mark. I just didn’t seem to be able to add any words despite all the editing and reading I was doing. Then, at about 10 PM one day, it felt as if the sun had come out from behind a cloud. It is the only way I can describe it. It’s like when you are outside on a grey day and suddenly the sun breaks through the clouds and falls on your face. I remembered why I was at university, why I loved that particular course, and why I was writing that particular essay. Within the next few hours I had almost doubled the word count.

Right now with the clay sensation in my head, I am waiting for the sun to break through again. But I am lucky, because for me these dark days are happening less and less frequently, I am still able to type this blog post and when the sun breaks through it stays for a little longer each time.

Dreaming of the Temple: Part 3

Dreaming of the Temple. I have mentioned before the associations these words conjure for me. The temple is a literal place, it represents calm and tranquillity with oneself, surroundings and circumstances. However, I’m not just dreaming of one day going to the temple and being sealed to my husband, that is not were the dream ends. There is a huge emphasis on family in our church, and especially at the temple. We have the belief that families are forever.

When my husband and I are sealed any children we have will also be sealed to us. This is not just children born following the sealing ceremony, but children who were born before, and if a convert’s parents choose to join the church years later they also have the opportunity to be sealed to their children and future grandchildren.

For us, dreaming of the temple represents our hopes for our family. We have not been married very long and as a result currently have no children. We have been discussing starting to try and conceive and, I’ll be honest, it has thrown up more questions than we thought it would.

Call me naïve, but I really thought that once we had told each other that we both wanted to have children and we felt like we were in a good place to do so, that that would be it. We both knew that this is what we wanted, it’s one of the reasons we got married when we did and we even bought some baby books we saw in the window of a charity shop that we passed on the first day of our honeymoon (as a joke gift to ourselves).

But since that initial decision we have been going round in circles. I created this blog as a thinking space, and that is what it is going to be over the next few days.