At the moment, my world feels pretty small. I'm grateful I can get to work and that friends and family visit but really I spend my days in my office or in my house and when I'm at home I'm mostly on my own. I used to bottle everything up but these days I'm definitely a sharer....possibly at times an over sharer if I'm honest. I'm someone who needs to talk through or at least work through my thoughts, worries, challenges externally.
When you live with someone, as I have done in the past, there's a natural point in the day where you share what's been going on and how you are. Now, at a time when you could argue I need that the most, I don't have it. But as you know, if you've been following this blog, I've been consciously putting things in place to help me through this period of my life (and for life in general really!) and I want to share what's worked for me.
I've tried a number of different techniques to help clear my head when I'm troubled, or to work through a problem when I'm feeling overwhelmed by it. Some methods or tools were introduced by friends and some just developed through trial and error. Below, I've shared the ones that have worked best for me. They won't be right for everyone of course but I hope that there's at least one or two which might work well for you.
Go back to basics
Later in this blog I'll talk about social media and whatsapp and how they are great tools for me, and they really are but sometimes there really is nothing quite like just picking up the phone to someone. I do this a lot less often these day, like most of us I'm much more likely to message rather than call but I do call my mum regularly and honestly a good chat through my day with my mum can really clear away the nonsense from my head. A blether over a cuppa is also often under-rated. It really can give you the space to share, listen and as they say, put the world to rights. It's all about making time for yourself to be open with someone you trust. It doesn't need to be a cuppa of course, that's just my preferred approach these days. A couple of years ago, when I was still well, a friend and I would meet two or three times a week and go for a walk along the canal near our house or through town. We'd walk for hours each week and not stop talking and laughing the whole time. It was one of the healthiest things I've ever done, physically, mentally and emotionally. Afterwards I'd feel so refreshed, knackered too obviously, but upbeat, relaxed, clear-headed and calm. I also slept brilliantly. It's one of the things I miss most since my ME returned. Fingers crossed I get back out there one day!
I've never been one for journaling or diary keeping. I did briefly keep a diary in high school but think that lasted about a month and focused mainly on my teenage crush on a boy in my chemistry class. For my Christmas a couple of years ago a good friend bought me the 52 Lists for Happiness book. My first thought was that this was great and a really positive thing to have. I decided to make Sunday nights my happiness list making night but as I settled down to write the first one I began to feel anxious, at that point I really wasn't in a good place emotionally and the thought of having to fill two whole A5 pages of paper with happy things seemed like an impossible task. I began to panic, what if I couldn't think of enough things? was it wrong to cheat in your own journal? can you fail at journaling?? Fortunately the format of the book was perfect for me. It gave me a specific question I needed to focus on and the more I wrote the easier it became. I did realise I found it easier to answer those questions which were about good things or people in my life such as "list the movies or books that make you happy", "list the things you hope will bring you joy this week" but found it trickier when it came to those questions about myself, "list all the strengths you have", "list all the ways you are creative". But this was good, pushing myself to recognise my own strengths etc was important for me to do and as the weeks went on I was essentially creating a little book of evidence that actually I was a pretty good individual and I had a lot of good things in my life.
I'm doing my best journal
This one I bought for myself. I was shopping for a friend and the cover just leapt out at me. I thought it was bright, cheery and funny...all the things I wanted to feel about myself! I was enjoying my happiness lists on Sunday evenings, perhaps this one would be good for Monday to Saturday. It was good, but not for the initial reason I thought. It's format is very different to the happiness journal. The pages are all the same, it asks you at the top of the page to share how you have worked on yourself that day and at the bottom of the page there is a rating scale from full glass to glass half full (or is it empty?) and ending with a smashed glass.
The first day I used it, I had had a rotten day. It was a Monday and it really was a MONDAY kind of Monday. Everything had gone wrong and I felt I hadn't handled any of it properly. I had come home stressed, upset, annoyed and frazzled. This was going to be a smashed glass day for sure. I curled up in bed and starting scribbling down everything that had happened and most importantly how I had handled it. As I was forced to replay the day and honestly review my actions and decisions I began to realise I hadn't been that bad after all. In fact there were some things that hadn't even registered with me at the time but I could see more clearly now. In the end, I settled for a glass half full rating. woohoo!
For me this format has helped me take stock of the good and the bad in my actions and reactions and it helps me unpick stressed out, messed up thoughts. One thing I've discovered is when I do something well or something positive happens that doesn't seem to stick around in my head as long as when something goes wrong or I feel I've not done something right. This book makes me look at everything and it really never is as bad as I first think.
Big ups and fist bumps
I'm in two whatsapp groups which are specifically set up with the purpose of myself and friends sharing positive things in our day or rather, positive things WE HAVE ACHIEVED in our day. It's a bit more public than journalling but it's still very much a safe space environment. Most of the time the things I share are quite small, or at least I think that's how they might be viewed but they are things that I'm really chuffed about. One group celebrates these mini (and major) triumphs with the fist bump emoji which always makes me laugh. It's a really nice and quick way of recognising and even celebrating these positive moments in your day in real time. The other great benefit of this for me has been seeing what others share. I always think it helps when you realise that other people worry about the same kinds of things as you do, celebrate the same kind of wins as you and need the support of friends just as you do.
I've realised as I've written this list I've almost ordered them from most private to most public. This wasn't planned but actually it fits well with the order I followed as my confidence grew or perhaps I should say as my anxiety decreased! 12 years ago, when I was first badly affected by ME, there was nothing much online to help. I remember finding a site that had some information on exercises but nothing in the article seemed relevant to my particular situation. This time around however there are groups and hashtags and accounts and sites galore. If anything, at times I can feel a little overwhelmed with the amount of information out there. However the big pluses for me are I can make connections and engage with individuals across the world who get the specific challenges and issues I face, I can read about their journey, I can choose to share or not share my own and I can (and have) built friendships with people who I can relate to in a way I perhaps can't with my real life friends. As awesome as my friends are (and they really, really are!) it is also so beneficial to speak with people who share the same experience as you.
This was my biggest and bravest move yet. As it says in my About page, I set up happybarnet to record and share my experiences and it really has been a great experience in itself. Posts I've written have helped me work through things in my head, they've helped me share personal growth and successes and they've helped me share what it's like to have the challenges I have, which in turn has helped those in my life understand the support I really need. Having a permanent and public record like this blog and all the #happybarnet posts I share on social media reminds me on bad days that I've overcome days like these before, that I have an arsenal of tools available to me to get through another bad day and that there really have been good days and most importantly there will be again.
I hope you've found this post useful and I would love to hear your techniques and tools too, especially any other useful journals out there!