Find A Happy Place

It’s something of a trite saying, but if this past week has taught me anything, it’s the importance of making space in my head for a happy place. A place I can retreat to that’s all mine, contains the things I love, makes me feel safe, happy and content.

I have gone some way to making a happy place in my own home. Working from home during the pandemic has meant my home office now has to cater for the day job, however I’ve made it a nice, comfortable space with an armchair, beanbag, TV, DVD player, and of course my collection of books. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s the coldest room in the house, I’d probably use it a lot more!

Today, I did a very simple thing with my space; I added a new set of shelves for all my writing and course materials. It wasn’t too expensive, simple to build, and once I’d arranged everything just so, my spirits felt immediately lifted. I absolutely love it. It also means I’ve managed to free up an entire shelf for my growing book collection; I’ve almost reached the point where I will need to buy yet another bookcase.

But what about a happy headspace?

This one is simple: a house overlooking a beautiful bay somewhere along the Devon coast, where my study has a gorgeous window seat with views to the ocean. Where I can sit and watch a storm rolling in from the horizon, and the undulating hills of the countryside stand out stark green against charcoal grey skies. Or bask in the warm sun, windows open, breathing in fresh sea air whilst reading or writing.

Living landlocked as I am, in a small 2-bed semi, I’m a way off achieving this sort of environment for real. But whilst it exists in my head, I can always imagine myself there, and make it one of my life’s goals. Studies have shown that people living near the coast are less likely to develop depression and anxiety, than their landlubber counterparts. (Source Live by the Sea) My other half, who spent some time living in Exeter loved living on the coast, and is determined that one day it will be our reality. I’m from the coast myself, but Southampton is an industrial port city, the best beaches still require a car journey of about half an hour.

Weird how I never really enjoyed going to the beach, but the idea of living near the ocean is such an appealing one.

I’m now halfway through my sick leave from work, and whilst the depression is still very much there, I have been a little less tearful. The anxiety is omnipresent, today has been a real day of butterflies in the tummy, and having to take lots of deep breaths to calm my racing heart, but I’ve kept myself busy. I have a number of self-help books (I’ve NEVER gone the self-help route) which I am reading to help me prepare for the hard work ahead, and I’m at the point now where I’m wanting and needing to make the changes necessary to become a happier, better adjusted person.

If you don’t have a happy place (real or imagined), and are struggling like I am, I recommend giving it a go. Do you have a nook in your home that can be transformed into a space that’s yours, and yours alone? Could your work space do with a bit of sprucing up, maybe add some personal touches? If you don’t have the space or resources, take a few moments to picture a happy place in your mind. Once you have it fixed, write it down, or draw/paint it (I’d draw mine if I could, but I’m terrible at art). Whenever you feel the need, go to your happy place, and take all the time you need.

I’m Not OK…

…and that’s ok.

On the last Saturday in January, I stood in the kitchen, and I broke down. I sobbed and sobbed. My boyfriend thought something terrible had happened, he tried to comfort me, asked me what was wrong, and everything poured out. All of it. All the emotions I’d spent the last few months keeping at bay finally broke through.

I’m sad, every single day.
I’m angry, all the time.
I’m ugly.
I’m worthless.
I wished I was dead.
How can someone be expected to live in so much pain.

For the record, I am not suicidal. Which I realise is a bit of an oxymoron, after I’d expressed a wish for death. It was more a case of thinking it would be better if I’d simply never existed at all. Is that worse? I don’t know. I do know that I couldn’t inflict that sort of harm on myself; and as someone who lost a relative to suicide, I’ve seen how it affects those left behind.

I’ve tried so hard not to let depression and anxiety get the better of me, but that weekend, it all became too much. I finally had to admit it, I am no longer able to manage this by myself, and I need help. I’ve been wandering alone, through a dark green forest, not knowing which direction to go, and a road has appeared to guide me. Having hit rock bottom, it’s time to take the road, step out of the forest, and head in a more positive direction.

I’ve done therapy before, I spent two years with a therapist back in 2006/7; and I found the experience to be very helpful. I gained a lot of insight into the causes of my depression, which was a real breakthrough. What I didn’t do, was continue the work once I’d finished my treatment, and being reluctant to go back onto Citalopram or Prozac meant I was simply setting myself up for another fall.

And then came anxiety, just to spice things up a little bit.

Remember the Sunday blues? That horrible feeling you’d get knowing school was the next day, or work was looming, and you hated your job, or you were worrying about a potential problem? Anxiety feels like that. The constant butterflies, heart palpitations (anxiety also lead me to have an ectopic heartbeat), breathlessness, sensitive skin, and a head stuffed full of noise.

People want to help, which is lovely, I always appreciate the gestures and offers to chat, but there is nothing anyone can do to help me. A trained professional will help guide me, provide me with exercises to work on between therapy sessions, but unless I use the tools provided, I won’t get better. And that’s another thing, these illnesses are with me for life. I accepted a long time ago that I will never be free of them, that they are part of me, and always will be. What I want is to reach a point where I can manage them better from day to day, so I don’t end up feeling overwhelmed again.

One thing that really pisses me off though? I have no idea of the sort of person I could have been had my life experiences been better. I feel robbed of any potential I had to make a success of my life. I lost the confidence to pursue my dreams at a young age, and that makes me really angry and resentful. Emotions, I realise that do nothing to serve me, but exacerbate the negative thoughts.

There are people in this world who don’t believe that mental illness is a real thing, that unless someone is manifesting physical symptoms, they can’t be ill. How blissful it must be, to live in such ignorance. Think of the mind as our internal software; like software it is vulnerable to attack, it can be corrupted and damaged beyond repair. There’s no bandage or ointment to protect it, it can’t be rebooted, parts of it can’t be replaced by donors, transfusions or grafting; treatment is a long, complicated process, and not always successful.

Over the years people have said to me, “you seem ok”, “but you’re always having a laugh” etc, etc. And that’s one of the common misconceptions about mental illness. I look ok, therefore I must be ok. But one thing depressed people are very good at is putting on that front to the outside world, it’s a defence mechanism, purely for self-preservation. Inside, we’re usually crumbling.

I’m currently signed off work for two weeks, I’ve got my referral through for the NHS Let’s Talk Well Being with an assessment appointment coming up. My doctor hasn’t put me on any medication for the moment, but it is a possibility. This is time for me to rest, gather myself, get out into the fresh air, exercise, eat well, and just focus on working towards getting well. I know it’s not going to be easy, the temptation to sit around and wallow in self-pity is strong so it’s time to dig deep, find some motivation and work to beat this thing.

If anyone reading this is also suffering, don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t feel you have to struggle through on your own, that no one will understand or care. That is not true, there are people who do care, and who want to help. From free services such as the Samaritans and NHS Mental Health services to private therapists who you can talk to in total confidence.

It’s ok to not feel ok. You are not alone.

NHS Every Mind Matters

Mind

The Samaritans

UK Council for Psychotherapy