Coping With Stress When Your Scale Is Already Off-Balance

balance.jpgThis week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s theme is ‘Stress’. Sadly, stress is a common affliction in our fast-paced world and it is something that each of us need to be mindful of. However, when you have existing mental health challenges, being mindful of stress becomes even more critical.

I experience my own mental health as a set of scales which are always off balance. My various challenges and addiction history, mean I own a set of scales which are incorrectly calibrated. It’s almost impossible to get them to level out dead centre. I have learned to be okay with this, and to find ways to get them to balance and stay stable in their offset state. This works as long as my life remains fairly consistent and stress free. However, life is life, unexpected or upsetting events will of course occur. When they do, like many of us with mental health challenges, I’m affected far more by stress than people whose scales are more accurately calibrated.

In experiencing an additional stress, I find I am triggered in all areas. The shock of a stressful event can knock me for six, my physical health begins to suffer, I can start feeling ashamed that I am falling apart where others around me are coping. If I am not careful, this can send me into a spiral and put me at risk of a crisis or relapse.

Over the last few years in my recovery, I have learnt how to better manage a stressful event so that I can look after my mental well-being until the event passes or is resolved. These are some of the things that I find helpful, in order to reduce the impact of the additional stress.

Remind yourself that it is OK to feel whatever you are feeling

Enforce your personal boundaries – clearly state your needs and your limitations

Drop anything from your life that is not important – make things simple

Use your coping strategies to administer self-care to yourself

Contact a friend or support agency for extra help

Evaluate your well-being on a daily basis – it may take a while to re-balance

Stress is often unavoidable but with careful management, it need not compromise our entire well being and we can return to own definition of balance in good time.

Advertisements

Day 2 of #356daysofselfcare

This Blog is part of the #365daysofselfcare challenge

2018-05-01_22.41.04-01I barely slept last night. I was up and down to the toilet every couple of hours. It’s the worst my bladder has been for a couple of weeks. Being so tired,  l slept through my alarm. However, with self-care in mind, I didn’t beat myself up about sleeping in. I instead took some deep breaths, accepted l needed the additional sleep and just started my writing work later than planned.

I also cancelled going to see mum as tiredness and a mum with dementia is not a great fit.  I surprisingly managed 3 hours of writing done, and afterwards I planned to flake out on the sofa. However, I had a sudden urge to do a bit of exercise. I decided it would likely do my very unfit body some good. I went for a  20 minute circular walk on the seafront and then did a 15 min weight session.

In the evening, I rewarded myself by putting my feet up and watching the remaining episode of lost in space.

Another nicely balanced day which again surprised me. It shows that mindfulness really does help a day to develop and turn out well, even after an awful start.

 

The 365 Days Of Self-Care Challenge

self care by finnThe last couple of weeks have been good mental health weeks for me. In realising the need to let go of some old ideas and refocus my direction, I have felt a welcome awakening of hope and possibility. I have really enjoyed feeling motivated and driven, a feeling that has been greatly lacking for several months now.

However, over this bank holiday weekend, I feel my mood has lowered somewhat. I have been finding it hard to get out of bed again. After making huge strides in getting my comfort eating under control, I have reverted to using Ben and Jerry’s as a mood lifter. The salad has gone brown in my fridge and the tomatoes have withered.

I find it extremely hard not to overthink things when a mood change happens. Being in a dark place is incredibly painful and when the light returns and warms my skin, I want to grab hold of it and never let it go again. When it inevitably does, the sadness of it leaving, in turn, adds another layer to the low mood. I begin to worry about how long the sun will be gone for and what I can do to get it back. My head churns over the question, “Am I going to feel like I did last week again or was that a one-off fluke?”.

When a shift in mood happens, I serve myself much better by just accepting that it is how it is. It may just be a low couple of days, it may just be because I’m tired. It may be because our British weather is as bipolar as my mood. Last week we had the ‘Beauty from the West’ and I was on the beach with my shirt off. This week we have the ‘Beast from the East’ and I am wearing the entire contents of my wardrobe whilst hiding indoors from the torrential rain.

Adapting to my mood is the most useful thing I can do rather than worry about it. After all, that is the entire reason as to why I have reorganised my life. Rather than my life having to come to a halt every time I cycle into a low phase, I am building a life that works around whatever mood I am in.

The most useful tool in any mental health tool kit is self-care. Adapting our self-care to how our moods present is vital. I know this, but when a low mood hits, all ideas of self-care go out of the window and I have to use every effort to make myself grab that tool kit, find something, and use it. Conversely, when I am on the upswing of a mood, I can forget that I need to still use self-care because I feel okay.

Self-care is vital for everyone but even more so for those of us who struggle with our mental health. Regardless of our mood, we must always make time every day for it. Some days, self-care is simply a promise to ourselves not to beat ourselves up when we simply can’t get out of bed. Other days it’s making sure we stop working at a sensible time in the day and reward ourselves with a warm bath or put our feet up with a film.

I need self-care more than ever now if I am going to venture into a new business of writing for a living. I need to make sure it stays being the positive thing that I intend it to be, not another reason to put pressure on myself and beat myself up when I’m not feeling on top form.

I noticed the hashtag #365daysofselfcare on twitter and felt intrigued. Researching its origins led me to a website called ‘Blurt’ who describe themselves as a ‘A social enterprise dedicated to helping those affected by depression’. On their website, there is a self-care starter kit which is available for free download and it contains a wealth of wonderful self-care information. The idea is to make self-care a daily habit and they encourage people to share each day of their self-care journeys using the hashtag #365ofselfcare on their social media platforms.

This is such a fantastic idea, it will keep me accountable and serve to remind me to practice self-care every day. It also means I can connect with other people across social media who are also on this journey. Connecting with people with similar experiences is another vital tool in any mental health toolkit.

I would love you to join me over on Twitter and Instagram with this! Tell me about your own journey with self-care, how do you find it? What works for you?

Keep on keeping on my friends!

Practising In Public

P-S-LogoOne of the main reasons I have put off sending any writing of mine out to publishers is because I thought I should wait until I was a better writer. I am my own worst critic, being a perfectionist comes as naturally to me as breathing. The trouble is I am never good enough, I struggle with this continually. I always set the bar way too high and end up knocking my chin on it. Then I just give up even trying to jump.

I worry about being wrong about my ability.  I think I write well, but what if, like those people on Britain’s Got Talent who are so utterly convinced that their playing of the triangle is legendary, I’m actually completely off tune and not at all entertaining? I worry that my spelling and grammar isn’t as good as it could be. I worry that I just haven’t got what it takes.

I could spend years waiting until I am ready. I could do a writing course, and once I am sure I have a flawless grasp of the English language and understand everything there is to know about writing, then I can begin to feel worthy of showing my writing to publishers. However, thanks to Jeff Goins, I realise that this is the least helpful way to go about things. In his book, ‘You are a writer so start acting like one’ he talks about practising in public. Although learning more about the skill of writing is a valid thing, more importantly, I must put my words in public. Receiving honest feedback and criticism is what will help me to improve.

My practising in public has started with submitting short stories to magazines. I have committed to sending out a short story to a magazine at least every couple of weeks. I sent out my first story a couple of weeks ago and I’ve had a reply to say, ‘thank you but it’s a no this time but do keep us in mind’. I wasn’t expecting success on my first attempt so that no didn’t sting as much as I feared it might. I have now submitted the same story to a different magazine and am waiting for a response. My second story will go out on Monday. I will just keep doing this, writing, and practising in public. This formula will work! It just feels so good to be submitting and to know that my writing is out there, rather than hidden inside my computer hard-drive!

The late bloomer. “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”

InspirationalQuotes3.pngOne of the hardest things for me in recovery from addiction and mental health challenges, and in going through gender transition, is the deep grief felt at the wasted time.

I began my recovery from alcoholism at the age of 37.  Finally, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, I saw clearly how drinking had not served me well at all. I drank since the age of 13, this had stopped me pursuing a career, building a life, making proper relationships and even growing up.  It felt like I had slept my life away. In suddenly seeing how wonderful life could be, I wished so much that I hadn’t waited so long to get sober. If I had addressed it earlier my mental health issues wouldn’t have got as bad as they did. I would have realised I was transgender a lot earlier and I would have had many more years to enjoy this beautiful planet and to make something of my life.

Waking up at the age of 37 has made me a late bloomer in every aspect of my life. It is only now, in being sober, that I am able to return to study and make a career for myself. It’s only now, having learnt to identify and sit with the various emotions I feel rather than drinking on them, that I can develop healthy platonic and romantic relationships. Because I have also gone through gender transition, this adds additional new aspects to my life that most folk deal with when they are young.  I have had to rebuild my identity, discover who I am as a man, get to know my new body and discover my sexuality. I am 44 years old now and only just starting out in life. I am a pubescent boy in a man’s body!

With so much being still so new, there is so much I yet need to learn and whilst I am not old by any means, neither am I young. There is so much joy in this newfound life but also so much sadness at wishing this life could have started years ago. Of course, I realise that had things been different, then I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I have skills and qualities, only gained precisely because of the path my life has taken, but still, the grief needs to be acknowledged. It is both valid and understandable. Accepting the loss of time means that I can transform it into a determination to make the most of the time I have now.

Being such a late bloomer may well mean that I can’t do a lot of the things I wish I could. However, I can find other ways to fulfil those dreams, simply by adapting them. For example, I’ve recently accepted that I must shelve my plans to be a therapist. I have too much healing of my own to do first. The motivation underlying that career choice lay in my passion to help people, to make a difference to the world and to people lives.  Instead of giving up that dream, I can search for new ways to fulfil it. Moving instead into writing as a career, using my psychology studies and my personal experiences, mean that I still get to follow my passion and in fact may even make more of a difference by following this new path.

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been”.  It may just mean you need to adapt the way you go about achieving it.

 

I Am A Writer – The Ahhh Moment

 

2018-bright-celebrate-769525.jpgIf you are familiar with me across all my other social media platforms, then you may have noticed some changes happening. I’ve been fiddling about with header images, taglines, personal bio’s and generally spamming your news-feed with all these changes (sorry about that!). Lots of you have been asking, “What’s going on?”

Grab yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit and let me tell you.

I have recently experienced one of those glorious moments where, after months of feeling so utterly terrible, a flash of clarity suddenly appears. I love it when these arrive, it’s like having a thought orgasm, it fills you with a rush of, “Ahhhhhhh!” and, “Oh God!” Suddenly everything is warm and fuzzy, and you are pregnant with ideas.

This has been a long time coming, I have been stuck for months and thanks to this beautiful baby epiphany, the way forward is beginning to make sense.

Since I entered recovery from addiction seven years ago, my life has changed beyond all recognition. Once clean and sober, I was able to look beneath the surface, to the cause of a lifetime of mental health issues. This allowed me to realize I was transgender and to begin gender transition. It also enabled me to learn to better manage my mental health.

This incredible internal change, awoke a passion to pass it on to others. If I could come from such a dark place, then I knew others could too. I wanted to make a difference, to support and inspire people to find their own path to recovery, whatever that might be.

The most logical way to make a living doing this seemed to be by becoming a therapist. I hadn’t been able to work for several years, due to my severe mental health issues. I needed to start slowly, to not jeopardize my recovery. I decided to begin a psychology degree with the Open University. Alongside, I could gain experience by volunteering as a youth worker and support worker. This would allow me the flexibility I needed, to be able to work on my recovery and undergo gender transition.

Around the same time, I decided to create a YouTube channel, to share the process of my gender transition in a video diary. The channel evolved very quickly to include not only my transition but also my recovery from addiction and poor mental health.

Surprisingly, lots of people began to watch my videos and interact with me. People left comments about how inspiring my videos were, and how much difference they made to their lives. Before long, my subscriber count grew into the thousands. I suddenly found myself doing exactly what I hoped to do, to make a difference, to inspire others to find their own courage to change. YouTube became my passion. I have wished so much that I could do it full time as my main career but making a living from being a YouTuber is rare. I also faced the additional issue that pursuing a therapy practice would mean giving up sharing via YouTube. It would not be ethical to have my personal life online for clients to find.

As I get closer to my graduation next year, I find myself incredibly torn about what to do. The career I originally wanted, is what I am already doing via YouTube. It seems ridiculous that I will have to give up doing what I love in order to make a living. But I have to make a living. Over the last couple of years, I have been mulling over options to find a way forward. One idea has been to use my psychology degree to move into research rather than practice, where I will still be able to make a difference. Importantly, I would be able to continue the work I do via YouTube.

I have also been writing. After being told by many people that I should write a book, I finally began putting my memoir together. I hoped that perhaps having a book published may be a chance for a career break of some kind, allowing me to make a living from YouTube.

However, nothing is happening in any of the above-mentioned areas. I have looked at a few post-degree research options and as yet do not feel inspired. I have several thousand words of a memoir but just cannot seem to put them together properly. I haven’t progressed any further towards paid work, my mental health and transition surgeries keep preventing me from doing so.

My mental health is currently a rather big issue. Unsurprisingly, as the last 12 months have been challenging on many levels. I am beginning to realize though, that this current mental health crisis could actually be a blessing in disguise. It has awoken me to some truths which, as is the nature of sudden truths, I can’t believe I didn’t realize before. The counsellor I am seeing pointed out to me that, in the grand scheme of things, seven years is not a very long time. I’ve put this huge goal on myself to get clean and sober, mentally well, fully transitioned and qualified as a practicing therapist in those seven years. It’s a bit of a big ask, isn’t it!

Looking at this in a new light, I now realize why I still haven’t managed to progress from voluntary work into paid work. Seven years is not long enough to develop the mental and emotional stability needed to practice. I need longer. However, I’m 44 now. If I keep waiting to be well enough to practice, I’ll be retired before I embark! I’ve been doing a lot of honest reflection, and as much as it hurts to do this, it’s time to say out loud that I am not able to pursue a career as a therapist.

In addition to my counsellor’s comments, a few other chance events helped me to suddenly see the light. A friend sent me a link to a writing competition, calling for submissions on the theme of pride. At the time I saw it more of a way to motivate myself to write, as I was struggling with my memoir writing.  Having not written a fictional short story for a number of years, I sought out a book to help me. I picked up, The Easy Way to Write Short Stories That Sell’ by Rob Parnell. It turned out to not only be a book about short story writing but also about how to get yourself into the mindset of a writer. Importantly, this book made me realize that I could actually make a living from writing.

Having really enjoyed the mindset exercises to develop oneself as a writer, I looked for a similar book. I found, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)’ by Jeff Goins. This book is fantastic and has changed everything for me. The part which particularly resonated was about building a platform. Thanks to this book, for the first time, I can see how my YouTube channel and my writing can work together.

I feel like someone has just turned on a light and I can finally see a way forward. The reason I have been repeatedly declaring I am writing yet not making progress is not that I wasn’t sincere. I really did mean it, every time I said it. The trouble is I’ve been viewing writing and creating videos as a means to an end rather than the goal itself. It felt like a big dream and I should just wake up, sort myself out and get a real job, as I’m not going to make it as a writer and creator. You see the issue wasn’t that I didn’t mean it but rather that I didn’t believe it.

Isn’t it strange that when things make sense its so obvious that we feel silly even saying it because it is so obvious!

So, what has changed? Well, everything really. I am shelving the therapist path. I shall still finish my degree, I love the topic of psychology but for now, my path lies elsewhere. Now I’ve said that out loud I can fully concentrate on writing. The wonderful thing is that I can start now. I don’t have to wait to be well, writing can be worked around my mental health needs. I realize now that I can make a huge difference, not only with my memoir but also with short stories around the themes I am passionate about, change, recovery, gender, and sexuality. I’m pursuing all different kinds of writing and I am excited. My YouTube channel now feels like it has a proper place and purpose. I’m also seeing a fresh start for this WordPress site of mine too, once stagnant, now it can contain my writing process and progress, to supplement my YouTube updates.

This is why you have been seeing so many changes in all my social media platforms. I’ve been refocusing them, away from support work and towards writing and creating, streamlining them and tying them all together. At last, it feels like I have a direction.

I am a writer. I am a writer. I AM A WRITER. (Thank you Jeff).

I am incredibly excited to share this next phase of development with you all!

Much love and light

Finn

 

 

Gratitude. The most valuable gift l own

This year has without doubt been one of my most challenging, marked with incredible highs and lows and so much profound change.

The beginning of the year started with a devastating backwards step in the surgical part of mygender transition journey,causing my dysphoria to sky rocket and my mental health to plummet.

I did not expect to surface from all that until my surgical issues had been fixed but to my great surprise l met someone who was to heal me of both present and past dysphoria and catapult me forwards into a journey of exciting sexual awakening and sexual exploring.

Now, approaching the end of the year l am facing the prospect of losing my mum. Whether that’s losing her to the numerous complex medical issues the hospital just can’t manage to solve, or losing her to the emerging vascular dementia which is causing so much confusion and disorientation. Either way, my mum is rapidly disappearing.

On top if this I received a date for surgery to finally sort out the issues that began at the beginning at the year. It was such poor timing and l wasn’t sure l could manage it mentally or physically with all that’s going on with mum. However, l am glad l decided to go ahead as the surgery was apparently a very simple and successful fix.

If l was to pin down the one thing that has enabled me to get through this incredibly rocky year it would be gratitude. My ability to be grateful is the most effective tool in my mental health tool kit and l consider my ability to be grateful in any situation to be the greatest gift l own.

Gratitude is such a magical gift, akin to alchemy it can turn the most awful situation into one of hope, promise and possibility. By simply switching ones view away from what’s lacking or missing towards even the smallest thing you can find to be grateful for, you can turn sadness into joy.

Once you start noticing those small things to be grateful for, it sets off a snowball effect and before you know it sadness and difficulty is made much more bearable By the warm blanket of gratitude you find yourself enveloped by.

Gratitude is an action induced feeling, you cant sit around and wait to feel grateful you have to put the work in and actively decide you want to be grateful and look for things to be grateful for. Once you start this practice you will strengthen your gratitude muscle and find it starts to become automatic.

Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself. Sit and write a list of ten things you are grateful for and notice how your whole sense of self shifts into feeling lighter and your face softens into a smile.

I am so grateful for the ability to practice gratitude. Such a magical gift indeed.