In my last two blog posts I’ve been touching on my mental health and how it's reached a peak. How, my whole identity was being called into question whilst trying to get an official mental health diagnosis. I wanted to write a proper blog post about it and tell you my thoughts about finding your identity. What does it mean to be you? Do we really need to define ourselves in order to live? Do we need labels or are they useful? I will attempt to answer these through my own experience.
I had a bit of a crisis in my mental health. It’s such a long story but I suffered PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from May 2016 after a traumatic start to life with our now 5 year old. I was put on anti depressants, Sertraline, because I went to the doctors feeling suicidal. Read more about that here. They helped for a while whilst I was in recovery. I had a year off work to get better. But in the last 6 months I felt the anti-depressants were making me worse.
It is 3:30am. I am lying awake in bed, typing this on my phone, in the dark with my husband sleeping softly next to me. Anxiety is a funny thing. Stress and pressure can worry you to withdrawal all day long. And the overwhelm can lead to depression when it all gets too much.
There seems to be drowsiness all day. The thought of having to cope with all my worries makes me feel tired. Shut down mode. But as the day starts to turn into evening and my duties as a wife and mother draw to a close, a strange thing happens. After feeling drowsy all day and wanting to sleep, when my time is my own, I suddenly wake up! Thoughts start whizzing around. My brain is powered with plans, dreams, organising, full of hope and opportunity.
It's a wonderful feeling but the problem is, I need to get to sleep. Or tomorrow will follow the same dreary pattern. The cycle starts again. Tired, irritable and struggling through the day. But unable to sleep at night for the overactive brain.
In June last year I wrote a blog about the 100 happy days challenge. I thought it was about time I gave you an update on how I got on. Well, as I'd guessed, alas, dear reader, I did not finish it! In fact I was even a little surprised how far I did make it... 20 days! A fifth of the way, not too bad considering my history of mental health. (See my previous blog with the poem 'Presence' for more of an insight on that particular subject).
It started like any new thing in my life. I was quite excited with it and felt motivated. And looking back over the photos, I remember the momentum of this continued until the 20th day where I just felt I'd had enough of it. Suddenly, on day 21, I just couldn't be bothered with it anymore. And I wasn't that fussed I didn't finish. I just felt I had to be 'real' and if 20 days was my capacity to keep up a positive attitude then no big deal really.
Sometimes I feel it is a little exhausting to be that positive 24/7. As I mentioned in the first blog of 100 happy days, for me, my life is a rollercoaster of emotion and so much can happen in one day! I'm slowly learning in my walk of faith (with God) to take one day at a time and if I have a few days where I want to enter my metaphorical cave, I'm not going to beat myself up about it. The only danger for me is not allowing myself to dwell too long in that dark place or I find it harder and harder to climb out!
I remember when first dealing with the depression side of things. I used to get really frustrated when people would ask me what the reason for being depressed was. 'What's causing it?' people would ask. I just felt these people didn't understand it at all. But then someone lent me a book about 'the human givens' approach. This was before my walk with God became a central part of my life.
And I learnt from that, that actually, there is always a trigger for depression, but what I hadn't realised was happening, is that I would feel like I'd suddenly ended up in this dark place with no idea how I got there. But when I received this revelation, each time it started happening I was able to look back and say, 'this event here started me on a downward spiral'. 'That event there was the trigger'. And I learnt that as long I caught it at the beginning, as long as I didn't let it go too far, I could dig myself out before I felt completely buried with no hope whatsoever.
These days I pray through it and allow God to handle it. But of course I still have days where I won't let Him in to help. Whether you believe in God or not, it's all about choices. You can choose to wallow or you can choose to do something about it. It's never that easy and sometimes I just enjoy wallowing, it's comfortable. I guess it comes down to balance again. Don't beat yourself up if you need to just rest, feel a bit negative, want to indulge in some wallowing. But equally, don't let it go too far and continue to the point of a depression you have no idea how to come back from.
It's all about managing it. The more you go through it, the more you learn how to deal with it. As with any hard thing in life. As we used to say when I once worked as a prison officer (just thought I'd throw that in there!) if you don't know how to do something, then do it as often as you can! The more you practice, the more you refine it.
So let's leave it there and finish off with some happy reminiscing on my part as I show you my top ten of the 20 happy days.
A little while ago I bought a journal which came embossed with the idea of being a place to write things down that are 'too good to forget - thoughts, memories, ideas' etc. Day three's happy moment was spent writing and gluing in here. Not only do I consider myself a 'writer', I am also an emotional hoarder. I love to document special memories, thoughts, feelings, ideas. This little journal is further evidence of this!
My baby boy, Eli, was only about 2 months old when this was taken. I've read him stories from as early on as 6 weeks old and he's always reacted to them, even that young. Watching and listening and drifting off when the story was over. On Day 5, this was a lovely moment, reading 'The Owl and the Pussy Cat' and watching him fall asleep.
On Day 6 I met a friend at our local 'Birdwood Bakery' for coffee. She'd also had a new baby a month before Eli was born. It was so nice meeting a fellow Mum and really encouraged me. If you've been following our journey, Eli has severe reflux disease. Being a new Mum is hard enough without all the things we've had to contend with. So it was nice to know I was doing ok. The bottom half of the picture was taken in 'The Range' to show the joy of spending some birthday vouchers. Then the last photo shows what I actually bought! Oh the glee of a craft shopping spree!!
On Day 7, my happy moment was amusing myself with 'Wreck This Journal' by Keri Smith, having what I call a 'Dad shandy' (made with ale as oppose to lager!) whilst waiting for a curry at my parent's house. Happy days indeed! And if you didn't know, 'Wreck This Journal' is fab, it gives a prompt on every page for different ways to ruin the journal. It includes things such as 'bury this page', 'freeze this page', 'take this page in the shower with you' and so on. I love this sort of thing!
Day 8 just happened to fall on the day of my book group. Considering this had been a dream of mine for ages, it's no wonder it was my happy moment. It's since dissolved but out of it I've made new friends that we just meet for drinks once a month in a pub instead and discuss life, love and babies, as well as books! The other pictures show the exhibitions that were on at the time at our Focal Point Gallery in 'The Forum', Southend-on-Sea's library. As the book group started from here. And I had a bit of time to kill so I had a wander round. Books, culture, art, yes we do have this to offer in Southend! We are no longer just another rubbish seaside town. Check us out! (Link at the bottom of this blog).
I love a bit of history and so Day Nine's happy moment was spent browsing through this magazine. A vintage look at the past of 'Woman's Weekly', showing the ideologies and fashions of the 1950's. I find it so interesting to look back and see how far we've come, how things have changed.
Day 10 was the simple joy of family time. Watching my baby boy start to make gurgling sounds and dinner with my husband for some quality time. What more can be said?
Being a woman of size, I am of course a die hard foodie so day twelve's happy moment was this divine salad. I cannot convey to you enough how gorgeous this was! An Abel and Cole recipe of which I'll post the link at the end of this blog for you to try out. Fry some halloumi cheese with a bit of olive oil and freshly crushed garlic. Then arrange some rocket and melon on a plate, add the halloumi and a squeeze of fresh lime. Add your seasoning, a bit of black pepper and a sprinkle of herbs. Oh my, it was so yummy!
This day had to be my favourite out of all the 20. My parents looked after Eli, my baby boy while my husband and I had a day out at the BST festival in Hyde Park, London. It was such a fantastic day I could waffle on and on about it! The top right photo was a great memory of the day. We sat down to have our beer and ended up chatting to these two lovely ladies. (And a third who declined to be in the picture). On the left was Daisy, myself in the middle and Sertia (no idea how you spell that so I've written it more phonetically!) a lovely Irish lady. We ended up having a fab discussion about faith and I love that sort of thing! Any opportunity to share the gospel or just have a little debate, I'm there! One of the conversations went like this:
Daisy: So what does your Jesus look like?
Me: Well, you know, quite traditional I suppose. Long white tunic, beard, longish shaggy hair. That kinda thing.
Sertia: Oh yeah, that look's kinda trendy at the moment.
Me: What, you mean like a hipster?...
Me: Jesus was a hipster!
Daisy: That's gonna go viral, someone's gonna make a song out of that...
Cue the words 'Jesus was a hipster' in a sing song voice!
It made me chuckle at the time. Then when I googled it later, I found this phrase had been knocking about on the internet for a fair while already! I found some images but here's one I made myself!
Another great thing about that day, was the opportunity to pray for someone within about ten minutes of getting into the venue! Again, I love that sort of thing. I saw a girl crying and felt the urge to go and comfort her. I went for it and asked if I could pray for her. She was open to it and agreed, then I found God giving me the words after to speak into her situation. I love how He does that! So when we were chatting to the ladies mentioned above, I was high on the Holy Spirit!
It was just such a great day and a perfect way to have some quality time with my husband. Arcade Fire and Band of Skulls were also brilliant. I do love a good festival or gig.
The last of my top ten highlights, day 19, was when I had some free time while my parents looked after Eli. At first my plan was to just rest and read. But I found myself a bit restless so I decided to bake! I find it so therapeutic, I love to have Classic FM on in the background to make it truly relaxing. Of course, it's not quite the same these days trying to bake with Eli around! My cake of choice here was lemon whoopee pies. They're basically like a cake sandwich! So you put the lemon cream cheese filling in the middle to sandwich them together. In America you can buy them already packaged as 'Moon Pies'. But they are a bit processed. These were yummy if I do say so myself. As for 'The Casual Vacancy', I would recommend it for a good read. A bit sad mind you. And now it's been adapted for the BBC. J.K. Rowling does do well for herself!
So, there you have it. I hope you've enjoyed an insight into the things that make me happy. Please do get in touch if any of you have undertaken the challenge. I'd love to know how you got on.
Here are those helpful links:
More on the 'Human Givens' approach:
Photo credit for 'the cave beam led my way':
For more info on 'The Forum', Southend-on-Sea's library and our Focal Point gallery:
The Abel and Cole recipe for the halloumi and melon salad:
Lemon whoopee pie recipe (mine came from a baking recipe book but this will work just the same):
I'm Julia, Just Creative Julia, jolly pleased to meet you!
Welcome to my creative lifestyle blog, established 2014. My main sections are: creativity including crafting, poetry and interior design; well being including mental health, recipes and my faith in God; personal including parenting and my general introvert deep thoughts. You can also have a browse in my shop and Etsy shop.