Tag Archives: depression

How Brain Disease Promised Me Quality Life Opportunities

How Brain Disease Promised Me Quality Life Opportunities text on a dark blue background. An image of blank wooden tiles with 4 spelling the world LIFE.
How Brain Disease Promised Me Quality Life Opportunities

I’ve been thinking alot about life recently. It’s been 5 years since I was diagnosed with a an atypical presentation of a rare brain disease; Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension or IIH. It’s also been 3 years since I was medically dismissed from my teaching career and I never dreamt back then that I’d still be mostly bedbound and so sick after 6 major surgeries.

But, how could I have known 5 years ago that this disease would have such unforgiving consequences for impact myself, let alone Joel and the boys? We never considered that this disease would mean reconsidering our dreams, hopes and plans for life together.

On the flipside, I’ve found silver linings amongst this shizz! I’ve found new ways to connect with the world, my family and my own wellbeing and built an even better relationship with Joel and the boys – who’d have thought that could happen! I’d never have been able to see myself not teaching but I’ve realised that I do have other talents and other roles to fill.

So in spite of my illness turning our world upside down and inside out, I’ve realised that my brain disease has oddly promised me new opportunities. I know that sounds crazy, even for a self confessed optimist, so let me explain my how I got to this conclusion.

How do you live your life?

  • Are you a dreamer –  living in a fantasy world with unrealistic ideals?
  • Are you a planner – always being organised and making lists?
  • Are you a doer – filling every waking moment and being very efficient?
  • Are you an optimist – being confident that there’s always a silver lining?
  • Are you a realist – able to accept and deal with the situation you’re in?
  • Are you an idealist – sure that happiness is a state of mind; despite the practicalities?
  • Are you impulsive – acting rashly and taking risks without thinking it through?
  • Are you a believer – having faith in what you do or trusting that your thing is truth?

I’ve always been an optimistic planner with an organised life. Everything had a place and everyone knew the systems. I knew was meant to teach aged 5. I taught my brother in the school holidays, when he’d much rather have played cars. I planned my life as a teacher and when I got there, I continued to live, walk and dream in teacher mode for 15 years.

Joel and I met at college and we took our time getting to know each other. I found his spontaneous nature intriguing as it was the total opposite to my pragmatism. But we had a shared sense of humour and moral standing and eventually became more than friends.

Girl with medium length, blond hair making a disgusted expression

I’d describe Joel as a realistic dreamer. He adapts to every situation and gets a job done but then he’ll fantasise over idealistic homes and awesome guitars. He dreams of not having to work ever again, so he can paint and play music all day and maybe study for fun!

One of the games he plays with the boys is ‘lottery dreams’ which is pretty self explanatory. They’ve eyed up many mansions, fast cars and had myriad wild dreams. I love that Joel has always encouraged them to delve into their imaginations as playing this game’s just not my bag. Well, it wasn’t!

But then I got brain disease and my thought process changed and as time went on I knew I had to reevaluate my life plan. I had to learn to be more impulsive and grab the opportunities to live on my rare better days. I had to learn to stop doing and even how to rest; in fact I’m still learning that. But I had to get real and accept this was my life.

Questioning My Purpose

 A photograph of blue sky and mountains in the background. In the foreground is a grassy hill with a signpost saying 'why' and a ?
Why Am I Here?

Accepting this life has been a huge deal! When I became ill I thought I’d be back in the classroom after a change of migraine meds. But that didn’t happen, I was left undiagnosed for months. When I was diagnosed, I was told treatment would be a long process but I thought I’d be back teaching after a few brain surgeries. Just like that, yep really!

I was angry about this disease for ages and had a side order of guilt and despair. Quality opportunities for me were as elusive as the hope of being pain free. I wasn’t clear what my role was anymore and all that I knew was fading; I had no idea where the end point was!

It took time to sink in that ‘long’ in this case meant marathon long; life changing long. It made me question my role and my sense of purpose was destroyed. It didn’t look anything like the life I’d planned and I had no backup option. I was a mum, wife and teacher. Brain disease had pulled the rug out from under me and messed up our lives.

Living In The Shadows

A single tall and spiky green Cactus Stem
The Grieving Process Cactus

I got lost in a desert of all consuming pain and hadn’t noticed the grieving process cactus spike I’d trodden on. I ways keeling over, dehydrated, unaware that I just had to wait for the cactus to bear fruit for the sweet syrupy nectar of a quality life. I coulhdn’t even feel that cactus back then. I could only see what I thought was the fix; surgery. Read my story here.

I was living in the shadows, in danger of letting this rare condition make a total eclipse of my life. The Black Dog was snarling and snapping at my heels every day so I needed to tighten the leash. I realised that I was being sucked into a vast black hole and I couldn’t hold on much longer. I felt like I’d been left to rot but knew I couldn’t let go of the edge.

I realised I had to weigh up the quality of life I had with one of taking risks and grasping all the opportunities I could. I wouldn’t let myself succumb to the darkness so my GP sorted urgent support from a counsellor. I felt like someone had my hands and wouldn’t let go!

The counsellor pointed out the cactus spike that was stuck in my shoe the whole time! I got hold of it and let myself start the grieving process for life pre brain disease. I let my inner mid-tantrum toddler out. I needed to be heard to began to accept the situation I was in.

The grief and anger I felt meant I was starting out on an equally long journey to heal my mental pain. Joel and the boys mattered too much for me to let go so I worked out the etchings of a plan with my first counsellor and slowly I began to rise.

A Determined Woman Will Always Rise

"And Still Like Dust I Rise" Maya Angelou quote on a sunset background with a silhouette of a tree and an African elephant with a man riding it, lifting its trunk.

As I began to resurface I knew I needed more to think about than watching TV and eating. I realised I had more resources than I thought and started to use those I knew I already had. Being Mummy, Wife, Teacher and Cook was enough to still feel needed. It was a start.

When my counselling sessions finished I was in a better place mentally but physically my health worsened. I joined online support groups and found myself helping others in similar situations. I made some genuine friends but I was putting too much energy into helping those who didn’t give anything back.

I guess my nature is to nurture and I enjoyed shining some light into their day. It was a distraction from my pain too but I caught myself checking my phone every 5 minutes as it was my only connection to the outside world. This wasn’t healthy and I lost sight of shining the light on myself. I needed something more than this but I was still lost.

Then one day I was reminded that I’d been going to silversmithing workshops for years before I was diagnosed. I’d loved every minute in that workshop and my toolbox was just sitting there waiting patiently. It was time for me to rise up for myself again.

Reconnecting With The World

They say creativity can transform lives. It’s known that well-being and self worth can be improved through music, craft and art. Creative therapy involves expression beyond words. However, I’d never considered myself to be creative until I picked up those pliers and the sheet of silver. I thought that this might be the perfect soul healer for me.

I taught myself to make beaded jewellery as I couldn’t safely work with the silversmith’s tools. It was a wonderful distraction from the pain and boredom. My friends wanted to support me and I started getting orders. Soon after, I realised this thing might have potential and opened my Etsy Shop ‘The Paprika Jewellery‘.

Paprika Jewellery & Accessories Logo with 3 handrawn red chilli peppers.
Paprika Jewellery & Accessories

Joel’s recently told me that although he was inspired by my focus he’d been concerned by inability to dream. He thought I’d struggle when the day came to retire. Ok, so I didn’t retire but I’m so glad he’d bought those silversmith workshops for me that birthday.

My first sale to someone I didn’t know was such a high. Really I had no idea how to run a business, but it was an epic distraction. I took it at my own pace and any sale was a bonus back then. I didn’t realise it at the time but I’d found a sense of purpose again.

As my self esteem improved I decided to start a blog to help me process everything that Brain Disease threw at us. I was embracing the grieving process now. My blog focussed on raising awareness of my story, IIH, and challenge the misconceptions of migraine.

People loved to hear about my journey and my blog engaged others affected by IIH. I was sporadic with my writing as it was such hard work for my brain. It still is but don’t tell anyone! Yet again I was helping others but I’d found my own sense of purpose this time.

I took a total break from everything in 2018, as I had 3 surgeries. I really needed that rest and I focused entirely on being with my family. By now I’d recognised the importance of my role as a wife and mother so I took this seriously. I realised how lucky I was to be at home every day so that when the kids and Joel came home, I could just listen to them.

If I was teaching I wouldn’t have had this opportunity so I embraced it. I’ve become the family facilitator. I’ve been able to support the kids learning and build a stronger family bond than I could have done in my old life. Now I celebrate the little things too.

Taking The Opportunities

Since recovering from my surgeries I’ve been building up my energy whilst learning to pace myself. But there’s so much I want to do right now so I’m practising matching the energy I have with the energy I need. I’m ready to grab every opportunity and achieve all I can.

I still spend most days in my bedroom as going downstairs is enough for a wipe out. I can use the opportunity to write, make jewellery and rest so I can make the most of the better days, doing what matters most; being with my family (maybe even going out) and seeing friends . I still crash afterwards but it’s worth it to be with those who matter most!

I’m focusing on my new jewellery collection and the relaunch of my shop at the moment. I’ve putting into practice the things I’ve learnt about business when I was resting. I’m excited to develop my vision of writing and creating jewellery from positive themes.

Yellow banner with a sunset image with silhouettes of trees in Sussex countryside. With Paprika Jewellery & Accessories written in the sky. Next to the image it says ‘Luxury Jewellery & Accessories from and for the souls, positivity for you now and hope for a vibrant future.
Making Jewellery and Accessories to share love, hope and positivity

The potential my writing has to empower women was a key factor in my decision to create gifts or treats which bring hope for the future. It’s a bigger task than I’d expected as I’m also giving my whole shop a makeover. I pushed myself at first but realised it was too much. So I’m practising balancing work and wellbeing to achieve my goals without overwhelm.

Whilst starting this new chapter, I was approached to write for Teva Pharmaceutical’s ‘Life Effects’ Patient support. It feels amazing to be sought out to blog alongside some amazing advocates, let alone getting paid for it (boom)! I’ll be writing a blog every 2 months for them but they my health comes first, it’s slap bang in the contract so I’ll pace myself!

My bio photograph for the Teva Pharmaceutical Life Effects Patient Support site in a instant photo style frame. I’m wearing red sunglasses with wavy hair pinned back, against a back drop of evergreen shrubbery.
My Life Effects Bio photo

When I wrote my Bio for the site I had a bit of an a-ha moment as I was reading it aloud to Joel. He stopped me and pulled me up where I’d written that I was an ‘aspiring’ writer. I want to write a book and see this opportunity to work towards that, but Joel made me recognise that I’m already a writer. Apparently a talented one at that according to Joel.

We discussed why I’d written that and I ended up unpacking a lot of the self doubt I’d been feeling since being offered the role. However I’ve now pitched my first blog idea, which went down with a 100% yes straight away 🙌. This will be my next blog and I’m so happy to be using my story to help others. Keep an eye out as I’m sure I’ll keep it on the down low.

As I’m always working towards something now, I have to plan my time carefully to prevent overdoing it. Flare ups happen and still hit from nowhere sometimes so I have to be flexible about what I do each day. As I work on both blogging and getting a business going again, I have to check in with myself so I don’t burn out from self inflicted expectations.

I’m so excited to see how my hard work for my shop pans out and to see where this writing journey takes me. Believe it or not, I’m actually daring to dream a little about both of these things. There it is, I got to the whole me dreaming bit at last! ✨

The Promise of Quality of Life

How Brain Disease Promised Me Quality Life Opportunities wording on a cream background. A lady with dark brown hair is asleep on a cream soft blanket with a cream puppy in her arms.
How Brain Disease Promised Me Quality Life Opportunities

A long and winding path has brought me here; to a place where I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded with live and support. A place where I am still achieving things even when I’m mostly bedbound, a place I never dreamed I would be.

The pre Brain Disease Laura would be proud of me now. I’m still focussed but I now dare to believe that there’s more out there for me. My surgeries have lifted the brain fog enough for me to kick daytime TVs backside and do something that matters. My optimistic view on life has helped me but finding so many silver linings along this journey has been my soul food!

Questioning my role has been liberating. If I was teaching I wouldn’t have discovered other talents and explored what I have to offer. I definitely wouldn’t have had the guts to pitch my heart to the world. I wouldn’t have discovered my naturally empathetic nature and I certainly wouldn’t have felt a need to offer positivity and light with those who need it.

A cobbled path through building at night. Lit with small fairy lights above and leading to well lit buildings at the end of the path.
The lights leading the way out of the shadows

In the lights that scatter the Brain Disease trail we’ve found morsels of glue which have reinforced my bond with the boys. Ok so maybe mixing teenagers and glue isn’t the best use of a metaphor but the relationship I have with them now is more important than I ever thought it would be. Their company is the biggest reward for getting through the pain!

I know Joel is proud of me for the effort I’ve put into my own wellbeing; which is a work in progress. His belief in my writing ability is empowering and I couldn’t run my business without his bucketfuls of support. He helps me dream and believe that I can. His trail of breadcrumbs led to my hope and determination so I could make it out of the shadows.

My perspective on life has changed completely due to IIH and has opened my eyes to the amazing opportunities out there for me. Although the positives can’t undo the abrasive nature of my pain or how it wears away on all four of us; it has shown that we can still live a quality life. So, directly because of brain disease I now rise, even stronger than before.

What has changed the way you look at the world?

Faded background image of a small red chilli pepper and dried berries. Wording says - want to be the first to know? Sign up to my newsletter today for exclusives and Paprika Previews. Grab your Freebie Printable. 15% off your next order.

Join my VIP mailing list today and get 15% off your next order at The Paprika Jewellery. Get free access to my resource library & download my Free Journal Prompts with positive lines from my poems now https://mailchi.mp/e35f39e6a929/paprika-strength-of-tears-news

Wooden desk with a notebook open and a blue pen resting in the spine. Wording says Free Journal Prompts for a better you. Original Poetry, quotes & questions for positive thinking.
Chronic Illness Bloggers

✋ Hey there! You could really help me out. Just one minute of your time to press that share button helps me so much! You’ll literally make me do a bed-bound happy dance. Now there’s an image for you! Go on, you know you want to! 

My Not So Secret Poetry Diary – A Date with Anxiety #copingwithanxiety #poeminspiration #mentalhealthblogs #chronicblogger

My Date with Anxiety

It’s been a tough ten days in my chronic illness warrior body, so I wanted to share with you some of the things I’ve been feeling – eek, it’s time to get real peeps!

I’m going to reflect briefly on what’s been happening to my body and mind each day. But hey, remember this is me writing so, even though I’ll be totally honest, I’ll make sure there’s a positive to everything! This is the story of my Date with Anxiety.

I keep a diary (not a journal) and use it to pace my daily activities. Randomly through the year I write little notes of my strengths and personalised affirmations. Then in the evening I write 3 positives from that day.

Friday 7th December

I couldn’t sleep last night, it’s been disrupted all week, but this was next level. The pain was intense and relentless and I couldn’t understand why. A friend visited me yesterday, which had made my day. She never stays too long and spotted when I was flagging. I hadn’t napped either so I expected knock on effects, but why was it SO bad?

At 3:30am my heart started racing and I was breathless and dizzy – losing control. This panic attack came out of nowhere!. I got up to use the en-suite and collapsed, but my amazing husband Joel woke immediately and rushed to my side. Then he hugged me tight, that hug that let’s me know I’m not alone!

I ended up taking a strong dose of diazepam, but I still didn’t get much sleep and when my carer arrived at lunchtime I was stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted. She took such good care of me and was extra gentle, seeing me so poorly. I recognised at the end of the day that I’m a very lucky lady to have such wonderful souls looking after me!

Saturday 8th December

Hardly any sleep again last night! The meditation and breathing techniques I normally use didn’t help and the day was littered with panic attacks, feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I was on full anxiety alert. Thankfully Joel was amazing with me through it all again and encouraged me to go downstairs for a change of scene.

Before going down I had a shower which was an accomplishment in itself. I still had panic rush up on me again and I just wanted to run away! But Joel guided me through it all, holding my hand I calmed down. Eventually, drained and emotional, I managed a 10 minute nap watching TV, on Saturday evening and finally got some relief.

I’ve not had a flare like this in years!

Sunday 9th December

I’ve managed to sleep much better at last, but I feel battered and bruised from the state of alert my body’s been in the last few days. I know my brain has had the acute stress response or fight or flight. This is exhausting as despite having a large toolkit for dealing with stress, I’ve struggled to access these strategies whilst in a state!

I’m being kind to myself today and have prioritised getting downstairs to be around my boys, so that they can make me laugh and help me heal. The mental bruises take just as long, if not longer than physical to heal, but I’m slowly building myself back up.

This link explains what might happen during a panic attack.

Monday 10th December

I’m still feeling fragile today, but at last my body has decided to catch up on some of the lost sleep. I’ve cat-napped all day, with a little break at lunchtime when my carer arrived. I have no idea what we were talking about but we were cackling away! Joel was working downstairs (a little cushion for me – knowing he’s around even if he’s busy) and commented on the cackling as soon as he did pop upstairs!

Now that I’m trying to process my feelings, I was brave and decided to write a poem about the feelings I experienced. It’s important to reflect on any kind of anxiety attack however you do it, but sweeping it under the carpet won’t help you in the future!

Tuesday 11th December

I finished the poem this morning when I woke up early. Most of my poems are at least started when I’m either not getting to sleep or waking early. This was an early morning finish! I love creating the poem on a lovely background, using stock photography, which is perfect for sharing on social media. I loved the reaction this poem received!

I also chose to explain a little about what I’d been exploring when I wrote this poem. However, I’m not yet used to being so open about my own mental health whilst I’m still fragile. But I’m committed to raising awareness and always think about the fact that what I write might help just one person!

I talk about my anxiety levels rising as the lack of sleep and increased pain added up. But although I’m drained, I do have a strong mental health toolkit – full of strategies that I practice regularly. I know how to use these help build myself back up. Knowing that I’m my only priority in this instance is key to bouncing back!

Well, I thought that I’d got my groove back as the week went on but I’ve struggled again the last few nights, especially last night when I managed about 90 minutes all night. Thankfully I dozed all morning, catching up a bit on all that lost sleep from pain. However, I’ve managed to keep the anxiety in a box by using my toolkit. See below…

No mental health blog is complete without a few top tips.

If you or someone you know suffers a panic attack, try these tips!

  • Exercise

Exercise is one of the quickest way to deal with the raised stress levels that come with a panic attack. My physical illness stops me from going for a run (think flight…), but I can do some bed yoga, even though I take it even more carefully than normal! Some good stretches and shoulder rolls are a great way to shake it off!

  • Talking through the experience

A panic attack is our body’s way of telling us we’re in danger. It’s unlikely you’re in any danger, but tight chests and trouble breathing are all primal reactions to danger. This can trick the mind, almost like a tripwire. So rationalise and talk your physical feelings through with someone. The more you practice, the sooner you’ll interrupt the signals between the brain and the body and if you do this when you’re not in the acute stage, the quicker your training will kick in when you do feel anxious or panicky.

  • Laugh, Smile and spend time with your loved ones!

What can make the stress disappear more than having fun with your friends and family. Make time for each other, put down your phones and other technology and talk. You’ll notice how often I talk about being with Joel and my boys. They make me laugh out loud every day and the feeling is mutual. It’s one of the strongest things we have as a team and we are definitely the reason for all of us usually coping so well!

  • Relaxation and Mindfulness

I talk about meditation and mindfulness in most of my blogs because they are the easiest ways to relax. You can train your brain to take it slowly and/or meditate daily so it calms and controls your breathing. Then you automatically have these skills to help you relax during an anxiety attack. Body Scan Guided Meditations are ideal (search YouTube) and I are some of the easiest meditations to start with. You may find that something else relaxes you, such as taking time to be present or sitting in nature.

I hope that this sneak peek into my world has helped give you an insight into panic attacks and how they can come about. I have let you in to these thoughts because I believe that mental health is as debilitating as physical health can be. They are also often intertwined and life can be tough and lonely if you keep it all inside. I feel very strongly that sharing my experiences is vital to ending the stigma that surrounds mental health. I only discuss this to raise awareness, I’m not seeking sympathy!

If there’s one thing you have learnt from my Date with Anxiety or one thing that you can take away to help yourself or your loved ones, then please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

**AND if you’re not affected directly, then please remember that you never know what someone is going through, so please take the time to listen and talk to each other!

I’ve referenced these websites and blogs whilst writing this post:

Anxiety and Panic Attacks- Mind.org

6 ways to switch off the fight or flight response

Understanding the stress response

How the flight or fight response works

Chronic Illness Bloggers

Being kind to myself; meditation and selfcare

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while, will know that I love to meditate. It’s one of the only things I can do to help relieve my constant pain; just a little bit. Meditation is taking time out to focus on yourself and introduce mindfulness into your daily routine. You can do visualisations or keep it simple with a guided meditation from YouTube. OI recommend The Honest Guys and Jason Stevenson. They just hit the tone perfectly and even have guided meditations that are specifically designed for those who are in physical pain. They are aimed at anyone who needs guided meditations and visualisations and are great for those with mental health problems; such as anxiety, depression. This two are especially good, as they are generic and great for beginners and anyone else!

Whilst I’ve been suffering from so many infections and heightened pain levels; I’ve forgotten how helpful I find meditation. Now this is one of the main issues that I have picked up on that are not helping me reach my goal for 2017. I made a promise to be kinder to myself. I am much better than I was and losing your way when you have set goals for yourself is normal; our brain fights to go back to what it knows, when we are trying to change our mindset.

So, I’ve revisited some of the steps towards my goal:

  • I have worked hard to limit my to do list. I bought a diary so that I could plan out my social media engagement and tasks and creative themes for my business. I’ve used an erasable pen or pencil, so that I can move tasks if I’m having a bad day.
  • I’ve been able to say no to friends visiting when I need rest days and tried really hard to celebrate my achievements.

However, I haven’t been so good at self care. I have got out of the habit of revisiting my pinterest vision board for achievements and positive quotes. Creating time for myself has been neglected a little; mainly by my meditation practice  disappearing from my daily routine. I’ve also neglected my writing. Both of these are so important for my mental health. I think I will try planning it into my day’s tasks in my diary. We’ve also made changes to my Carer’s tasks for the day and that has been an amazing help for them and myself.

Last week, my writing mojo returned and I have been honoured to join the team at The Fine Print of Pain. This is a brand new site, intended for people with chronic illness to have access to a plethora of advice, information and even has a space for chronic illness creators to show off their talents. This excites me so much. I wrote my first article to explaining IIH you can find this here. The editor, was stunned by my writing and said I had “produced an article that was articulate, focused, and properly done, especially for your first time! I feel so proud of this (and will add her words to my vision board). However writing like this today, about what is playing on my mind is so cathartic.

So, I have started this blog instead of meditating which  was my plan. However, I just felt so sick that I couldn’t settle. Being able to just write about what is happening for me now, has distracted me and my nausea is settling now (with a little anti-emetic help and a dose of oramorph). It’s reminded me how much writing helps me work on my positive mindset. I’m now going to pause, meditate and hopefully have a snooze and then I will finish what I have to say about meditation and self care; the first steps back to my daily routine for a positive mindset. It’s 10:52am. I’m going to listen to a sleep meditation to cleanse your chakras; appropriate for those with an affinity toholistic practice and spiritually.                  Before Sleep: Chakra Realignment

Ahhh….it’s now 12:20 and I’m having my Pukka ‘revitalise’ tea, tucked up in bed and feeling so much calmer. That is all it takes to remind me of the importance of this. My pain is lower, I feel a tiny bit more energised (still having a bed day though) and my shoulders are still lower than my ears! Ok, I still look poorly but I am, so I just have to deal with that!

Self-Care

The actions that individuals take for themselves, on behalf of and with others in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness. SourceThe self-care forum.

I have been working towards all of these things with the support of an amazing group of women. It is run by an  inspirational Coach calls Josie Brocksom who runs Worry Free hypnotherapy and coaching. It makes me focus on recognising my needs so that I can be the best that I can possibly be. I highly recommend this lady and her fab blog too!

Next Steps

It’s now time for me to put into action some of those good habits that I have let slip.

  • I will plan time to meditate at least once a day
  • I will make use of #wednesdaywisdom by posting in here, on Twitter and my Facebook pages (personal and my Paprika Jewellery & Accessories page, which you’re very ŵelcome to visit) to help me revisit my vision board.
  • Write regular blog posts, I’m going to aim for one a week, maybe a fortnight.
  • Take praise on board and capture some of it to add to my vision board.
  • Plan my social media time, so that I don’t let it take up too much of my time; which could be used creatively or as rest time

 

Mental Health Awareness Week-Thriving against the odds #mhaw17

Did you know that those with the most common chronic health conditions, are 2-3 times more likely to have mental health problems? The prevalence of mental ill health is most prominent in those on low income, young adults 18-34, females or those living alone. Mental Health awareness week 2017 is here and I want to write about how I do more than just exist, despite the adversity I face because of my chronic illnesses. I hope that by sharing my experiences; I can help you recognise the steps you could take to improve your mental health, whilst dealing with chronic illness. I want to help all of you take steps: TO THRIVE AND NOT JUST SURVIVE. Learn more about the message from the Mental Health Foundation.

What daily steps could you take to make life more positive? What strategies can you use during flare ups or difficult times? How can you feel confident that you have the toolkit to thrive? I will share some of my experiences and strategies that I use  to thrive, despite constant high level pain, which leaves me in bed about 90% of the time. If you’d like to know more about my illnesses (Migraine and IIH-a rare brain disease that mimics the symptoms of a brain tumour) then please read this.

Before you read any further, I want you to make a choice. Which path do you want to choose-a) ignore your feelings, taking no responsibility for your emotional wellbeing; b) wallow in self pity, moaning about life; or c) take steps to make the best out of a bad situation? If you choose a or b, then I suggest you won’t gain from reading any further. If you chose c, then I will do my best to help. There are many ways to deal with mental health problems; this blog is purely my own opinion. Please seek medical attention if you are self harming or having suicidal thoughts. There are no quick fixes here, but in order to move forward then you will probably need to seek some form of professional help; if you haven’t already. 

SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP

I have had counselling prior to becoming ill, after we nearly lost our second baby at birth. Because of this, when the magnitude of my current situation hit me; I was quicker to react and smart enough to know that I needed help. Living with chronic illness means that you usually grieve for the old you. Therefore, it is likely that you will need some form of professional support; such as counselling or CBT. Chronic illness also impacts on everybody whose lives are affected; particularly close family. If is now 4 years since I was diagnosed with IIH, but I continue to actively seek help. Most recently, we felt that our family would benefit from group therapy. This time my husband was the brave one and sought help. At the time, I didn’t realise how hard he found it to reach out, but a few sessions in and we are all feeling the benefits.

Steps to improve your mental health

My first question for you is what do you love to do? What do you spend most of your time doing or thinking about? (Keeping it clean and legal of course). I love to make others happy, particularly my husband and children; but, I’ve always felt the  need to go beyond that. Before I had to give up work I was an Early Years teacher. My passion was making those children smile as they learnt. To see the children run out to their parents at the end of the day, bubbling with chatter about what we had been doing; was my life’s purpose! When I had to stop teaching, I felt utterly lost. So, one day I I realised I needed a new purpose. I decided to use the skills I had learnt during a silversmithing course and my love for writing. I decided that, despite my constant pain, I had to make the decision to make the best of an awful situation. I now write this blog and poetry for myself and others and I run my own jewellery and accessories business Paprika Jewellery & Accessories. So, if you’ve read to here, you’ve probably made that decision too. Take your time to think carefully about what makes you happy. It may take time, but hopefully you’ll find a renewed sense of purpose. You can do what you love, despite being ill. 

This was my first step along the long and winding path, towards thriving with chronic illness. At first, I felt guilty about  crafting, when I was off sick from work. However, it actually distracts me from the pain and I soon learnt that my social workers and GP understood how important it was for my mental wellbeing. So, don’t be put off by feelings of guilt or by feeling overwhelmed. It doesn’t have to be a big thing and you don’t have to make it more than a hobby. You could take up photography or journaling. Ask yourself this: wouldn’t it be nice to do so much more than just coping with your illness? 

HOW TO COPE DURING DIFFICULT TIMES 

I want to be clear that I am not saying that everything will be a bed of roses. There are going to be dark times; that is expected and it’s ok to take time out, to do whatever you need to do, to get through those days. When I’m low, I talk. I talk to my amazing friends, both local and online. Online support groups are a great resource, but they do need to be chosen carefully; some have a negative atmosphere, which could do more harm than good. It may take time to find the right one(s). I have made amazing friends in my carefully selected support groups, others who get it. I also benefit from a group for women who want to live a worry free life, which has helped develop my toolkit immensely. All the groups I’m active in, have a positive and empathetic ethos. It’s taken time to find the right groups and the right people. I have left groups which don’t fit what I’m looking for (that in itself changes),  so it is a case of trial and error. In very dark periods, I reach out to my GP. Acknowledging that you’re finding things tough, can, on its own, help you out from under that dark cloud. 

THE TOOLKIT TO THRIVE  

I set myself a goal at the beginning of the year and break it into manageable steps. I keep a Pinterest board to help me to  revisit it. I also use a diary and in erasable pe, I write 1 or 2 goals a day. If I can’t do them, then they can be rubbed out, so there is no feeling of failure. I also ensure that I think about or write at least 2 positives from my day; usually on the positive post in my Conscious Crafties community; which I set up and is now posted daily by a rota of lovely members. I also try to meditate or use relaxation methods each day  These are the main tools I use, but you will find your own. 

I want to properly introduce you to the biggest influence on my emotional wellbeing-my husband and best friend; Joel.  

Joel is my main carer and I am so proud of him, as he is now the face of Carers for Lloyds Banking Group and a co-chair for the Family Matters strategy across the whole bank. This week he told our story and how my illness impacts on our family’s mental health. In the article, Joel talks how he has retrained his brain to help himself, me and our boys; look after our emotional wellbeing. He writes about the simple act of ncouraging me to recognise my daily achievements; even if it’s just managing a shower. He also talks of how he helps himself and our boys (11 and 13) assert a positive outlook, by asking them on the way to school: “what are you looking forward to and what are you hoping to get done today?” He also wrote about our use of a positive jar, which you can find more about here.

Our story is helping people and inspiring others, clearly seen in the comments about the article. Here are just a few quotes from his co-worker, after reading the posts.

“I like the idea of a positive jar and will try this at home. I have a 14 year old daughter struggling with anxiety issues at the moment….I hope this idea will help her.”

“Your positivity is really inspiring and some very practical advice.”

“What an amazing family you all are. I really like how you acknowledge the realistic things.”

As well as ideas mentioned above, we use the wide-ranging toolkit that I gathered in my teaching career; Joel brings extensive managment and leadership skills and our boys bring their astoundingly mature points of view and striking honesty about what they see. We ensure that there is no blame put on me about our situation, (inevitably I still feel guilty-but hey, I didn’t say we’d cracked it). We also make time for a monthly family meeting and a monthly afternoon tea. 


In conclusion, I know that I am lucky to have a wonderful family to keep me positive, however, there is always support for you somewhere. So, start your positive mindset today by thinking about what makes you happy. If you use visualisation techniques then this would be a great way to spend a good amount of time to think this through. Emotional wellbeing is often overlooked by all of us. For those of us with chronic illnesses it is even more important to try and work on building resilience, flexibility and resourcefulness. Please write in the comments if you find any of this particularly helpful or you would like more information on something specific. I am always happy to help, but please bear in mind that I may take longer to respond if I am having a flare or taking some time out. 

My life with a #raredisease. All the emotions of the rainbow.

Firstly, I can’t believe I’ve not updated since June! It’s such a busy time of year, even not being a teacher anymore doesn’t seem to slow things down. So what have I been up to?: 

MEDICALLY- I’ve been getting more and more frustrated with the pace of the baby steps. The first stage of my care plan; the Styloidectomy (the bone removed from my skull in January) has worked. It’s opened the jugulat vein that was compressed and we have noticed some improvement in my ability to engage in conversations. More recently, we have noticed that I can cope with noise a little better, even managing to enjoy the whole of  Luca’s end of year play! Previously I’d sit outside the hall and just peep in for his part! 

However, as well as the right sided issues, I also have constriction on the left hand side; the pulsatile tinnitus moving to that side to ensure I don’t forget it. So, The Wizard (my ear and skull based surgeon) passed me over to The Boss (my neuroradiologist) and it was proposed that we proceed with the plan to insert a stent to open the blockage in left transverse sinus. This won’t solve everything as I have many other growths on my skull and more compressed veins that we cannot treat yet. This is due to the delicate nature of the surgery meaning it is not currently available; politics!! So the stent is not a solution but should hopefully (please)? give me some relief.

We were not told in January that this proposal had to be signed off by a neurosurgeon and the neuro in the team refused to sign off on the stent; advising us that he wanted to go through all the tests again, plus an ICP bolt (literally a bolt surgically implanted in your skull to measure the intracranial pressure more accurately). This meant that my surgeons couldn’t agree and reached an impasse. As you can imagine, I was devastated. The temptation of even a little relief is all consuming and I have been really struggling with my journey hitting yet another stumbling block! More on this to come….
EMOTIONALLY- I’ve not been in a good place, largely due to the medical frustrations. Life with chronic illness is tough and living with constant pain; mostly unbearable. My GP (and myself) are reluctant to use anti-depressants and I’ve already  had counselling sessions that were useful to a point, however, there is not much more that counselling can offer me at the moment. We decided, therefore, that I will have to find my way through this quagmire of pain, disappointment and loss of control, myself. I have mostly felt stuck in a sink hole: floundering and becoming more and more depressed.


 It’s been a dilemma for me whether to even write this post but instinctively I know that I need to portray the whole picture and that just showing the funny side or even just the factual day to day world of chronic pain is not coherent and may be slightly misleading to you the reader. So, the truth is that there have been awful days and nights; tears, panic and complete anger at the hand I and my boys, have been dealt. I’ve mostly felt that I have been left to rot. Guilt comes with dependence on others, especially leaving my husband to have to constantly fight all my battles. 

Ultimately it comes to this: I have had to cram my thoughts with how I have been shown more love than I ever deemed possible from friends old and new. This is hard as I go through the agitated emotions that come, each time someone I’ve relied on; lets me down. But, in my heart, the truth that I have a responsibility as a mother and a wife, ensures that I delve deeper than I ever believe is possible, to find the strength to continue this journey. 


PHYSICALLY: My mobility continues to deteriorate and any slight exertion: standing up,  brushing my teeth, wrapping a gift; leaves me out of breath and completely overthrown by my extreme and debilitating hyper-sensitivity. I’ve described before the pulsatile tinnitus and it has returned with a vengeance in the past months. It takes over with any exertion, making life disorientating and sometimes impossible to cope with being around others. I fall more often than everbefore and despite havuing THREE walkers, I have still managed to break a toe, sprain my ankle and hurt my back many times. 

So we decided that I could no longer continue to live the life of a princess (or more realistically, mad woman) trapped in the tower. You may have noticed on my page Tears of strength that we have had our driveway levelled, ramps put in two exits and the most amazing invention known to mankind: a stairlift, fitted so that I can twist amd turn my way down and round the corners and get to the lounge, my new day bed and craft room. It’s been great to be able to begin to reintegrate myself into family life. The independence of being able to choose where I go has been a real boost, just when I needed one. I still hate the stairlift and try and stare it out on days spent in bed; however the relief of knowing I never have to crawl the stairs again and despite it giving me motion sickness (of course) it is a real lifeline.


 (In my day room) 

So this whole journey, especially the last few months, have been a rainbow of emotions:


Resilient throughout incessant tests of strength; waiting for answers and hoping, always hoping.

Awestruck by the enduring love, positivity and energy, portrayed by those that feed my soul.

Irritated by the subservience I have to endure; my future always balancing in another’s hands.

Nervous about the the course of time; the unknown path and destination of this unplanned expedition.

Blundering through life, unable to get my bearings; everywhere I look, a stark reminder of what was.

Overwhelmed; humbled by the kindness, love, support and encouragement, that I feel I don’t deserve. 

Weakened; as delicate as a spider’s web, if one fragile strand fails; life tumbles into fragments.

Solidarity between my allies; my circle of support and the creators of my hope. Always hope.

So to the latest news: I imagine my The Boss having this kind of impact on others….t


I think he thoroughly but professionally destroyed my neurosurgeon (nameless as not worth the effort) and has managed to delicately persuade a more senior neurosurgeon to take on my case. Now we just wait to see what happens when we see him in the next few weeks. I hope  we will be able to prove how much I need this operation and have the tiniest amount of influence over my future. Thank you for your continued support in my journey. I will update you as soon as I can and will have a nickname for my new neurosurgeon very soon! 

#painsomnia and the cycle of #pain and #negativity

  
I’ve not been writing a blog at the moment because I’ve run out of laughs……

‘I just want the pain to end’! 

Painsomnia is eating away at my core of positivity. 

I haven’t slept properly in days. At night, I’m either awake and distracting myself with pretty things on my iPad (brightness on lowest setting) and meditation music; getting up and down to the toilet to take oramorph and then use the loo because of all the water I’ve had to drink because of the dehydration oramorph causes; crying silent tears whilst I wait for the meds to maybe work; lying half in the drifts of sleep before I move and rename that it hurts or collapsing on the floor because the meds really haven’t done their job.

A lot of this is to do with my love/hate relationship with oramorph. I proved that I’m not addicted to the stuff when I came out of hospital after the venoplasty, as I had none for 2 weeks. Since then I’ve been able to go some weeks without taking it for 3/4 days at a time! Although recently that’s felt like a dream away…However much I hate what this drug does to my body (I’ll save the details of the side effects for another time) it does help so much with the pain, if-and only if- I take it be fore the pain spirals out of control! 

Last night I took some after I brushed my teeth. The teeth brushing had stopped being a trigger but it appears to be back! The thing is that at that time, it didn’t work as I’d left it too late, and even though I’d been nodding off at 6pm and 9pm, the tooth brushing took the pain up to another level and the oramorph just couldn’t bring it down enough for me to sleep! Even extra diazepam didn’t work! 

By 2am I decided that I would have to take more, so I stumbled to the bathroom, I fell against the wall, then the sink. I took 15ml straight away (I wasn’t waiting 5mins to top up this time) and I stumbled back out of the en-suite. I fell against the chest of drawers and tried to hold myself up but my legs just crumpled under me before Joel could get there; even though it all seemed like slow motion! I just couldn’t take anymore and a full meltdown ensued! Poor Joel being woken up to that! I won’t go into the details because that’s not what this blog is about! 

  
Anyway, with a herbal ‘relax’ tea and some more meditation I eventually fell asleep. I caught up a bit more with my morning nap, but after weeks of a cycle of this; it’s really starting to get to me. I feel low. I’m not laughing very much at the moment and I’m crying quite often! I’m not really laughing while I’m crying….So, I’m going back to taking the oramorph at more set times so that I can try and control the pain before it gets to the point beyond any control! My GP keeps telling me that this is ok but I’m so stubborn that I keep holding back! 

As well as trying to reduce my feelings of isolation by re-introducing a few house rules that have gotten a bit lax lately; our positive jar needs to be brought back out and restrictions to the amount of YouTube that the kids are watching are being put in place as of today! My being in bed most of the time is messing with all of our heads, not just mine! 

A real positive that is happening for me at the moment though is that I’ve also been able to share the idea of 3 positives with the members of the Crafties community that I introduced in my last post. It was brought up in conversation between myself and one other member and from there it has spread.  

  
 
We are running 21 days of sharing 3 positives and so many members are contributing. That can’t do anything but help me feel a little happier. So I’m going to try and focus on that and sharing positives with my family and try and get my groove back on! It’s proven that 21 days really can retrain your brain! Here’s hoping. On that note, I must go and start the post off for today in the group….

Will let you know how I’m getting on soon. 

Laura 

Day 28 #MHAMBC #MHAM  Hope begins in the dark…

  
I haven’t written a blog entry for a couple of days because I’ve been in quite a bad place both physically and mentally. Physically, my body has been wracked with shooting pains from my shoulder and neck, a tight band of pressure through the back of my head and round my forehead-like my brain is trying to burst out of my head any moment and temples and all around and behind my right eye where I get sharp ice pick pains, like someone is stabbing me with an enormous piercing needle every few seconds. My whole body becomes weak when this happens and not only can I not walk without crashing into walls (hence my new handy Zimmer) but I also get parasthesia (pins and needles) in my face and hands/wrists, increased dizziness and some vertigo spells and constant nausea and some dry heaving/vomiting from the effort it takes to try and move amongst other things. I’m telling you about all of this so that you can begin to empathise with me about the darkness that I live with almost daily; despite being on regular and occasional heavy duty painkillers and medication to prevent all of these symptoms! 
  
The darkness in my mind, however, doesn’t visit me so often. Sometimes known as ‘the black dog’ or depression, I am actually well known for the opposite; my positive attitude towards life and the fact that I don’t let the depression affect me! Well, that’s not quite true and this weekend has been especially hard. In fact; I’d say it’s been one of the meltdown kind! Yesterday, I had a really long sleep in the afternoon and so still felt quite awake at 6:30/7 when Joel wanted to sort out tea but the evening didn’t quite go to plan: I lost my temper with the kids, I was grumpy with Joel, I was even fed up with the cats. Joel suggested we got take-away; I said I didn’t care as I had no appetite. When he came back with the curry, I had the shakes really bad and we all knew this was a bad sign. Luca even looked at me and said I looked poorly. I asked for the windows and back door to be shut because the birds were ‘too loud’ and Zeke dropping his fork onto his plate made my eyes practically jump out of their sockets! Our normal reaction at this point would be for one of us to suggest I go upstairs but I think that last night every single one of us, subconsciously or not,  just wanted one night of bloody normality! One night when we all eat our meal together, one night when mum isn’t in bed before the kids, one night of ‘getting away with it’. 
Well, my resolve was truly being put to the test; the next thing happened a few minutes later. it started with tears on the sofa (me crying, sitting on the sofa, that is). Both boys jumped up to intervene; Luca to give me a cuddle and encouragement and Zeke to get some positive notes out of our jar to read to me. That and Joel’s constant support and love (and eventually, a tissue) got me through my wobble and I pulled myself together, had some ice-cream and then knew it really was time to get up those stairs before 8pm. It was the latest that I’ve been downstairs in months! However, the journey upstairs was one of the worst and longest to date; I’m sure I cried more than when I was in labour. I had to commando crawl from the top of the stairs to the bed, all the time moving a bowl along with me as I dry-heaved from the pain and effort! I was crying because the boys were seeing me like this; I was upset because Joel was having to tell me to keep moving so that I didn’t just curl up around the sick bowl at the top of the stairs and wait til morning; I was devastated because I just want to do normal stuff that normal families do; I was feeling beaten up from the inside and all I wanted to do was go to sleep right there! 

  
So being the stubborn little miss that I am; after a good 25 minutes or so I did manage to make it to my bed, still heaving. But now I had no strength in my legs at all and Joel had real difficulty getting me on to the bed; let alone helping me get ready for bed. To be honest; I was exhausted, still shaking and heaving for a good while, whilst Joel had got me on to the bed with my trusty migracap and painkillers! He helped me to the toilet when I needed it and generally had to help me do everything for the rest of the evening!  

Anyway, this got me thinking about something Joel had told me that one of the boys were cross with me because I was ill and that he’s always grumpy in the morning because I’m never awake to help out! We’ve already talked to them both about how it’s ok to be angry with the illness but not with each other but I think that this is harder than it seems. I think that there must be a part of all 3 of them that are angry with me for being ill. I cause then all more worry, more work around the house, less fun as a family altogether and less time to relax; whilst all I do all day is stay in bed or on the sofa! And it’s been that way for 18 months now!  I’d completely understand if they wanted out! I want out! Can I get a refund for the last 18 months?  I’ve had enough of being stuck in this ticking time bomb; waiting for my head to explode from too much pressure building up. My symptoms get more and more like someone with a brain tumour but that’s IIH for you. It makes your brain act in the same way, and then, lucky me,  I have migraines come and join the party too; but I can’t tell them apart anymore. All I know is that I’ve had enough of it all. I just want to be Laura again. I know I won’t be the same Laura that I was before this journey started and I promise that I will get back to seeing the positive side again soon but I need to get rid of the grief and anger that I have at the moment whilst I mourn the Laura that will probably never hold down a full time teaching job again, that won’t get back the 18 months+ when her children were aged 7/9-9/-11; all those missed assemblies and concerts. Here’s a picture of me pre-chronic illness! 

   

Those were the days; time to do my hair and make up (although this was done at a vintage fair), I’ve got jewellery on and I’m standing up! It must have been a similar time to when this photo was taken that  Joel recorded a short iPad clip of him and the boys; which they watched this morning. Towards the end of the clip I walk in to shot and join in a bit. When watching it with the boys, they said “look Mummy can walk normally”! You forget how long 9 months of me having a stick and chair must feel like to them! Anyway, Joel showed me the clip this evening and this was the tiny glimmer of hope that I needed today and I watched it a couple of times! 

  

Although I’m finding things tough at the moment, I know that there is always a positive to be found in everyday. I know that there is still a little crack in the door that let’s through a little bit of light *hope* and I know that my stubbornness or as I prefer to call it; my determination is what gives me my strength! So although, I hate my illness and what I’ve lost; I’ve also found lots of new things to be so grateful for. I think that there’s still some elements of grieving for life before I was unwell that I haven’t managed to work through yet. I’ll be keeping a keen eye open for that little glimmer of hope in the shadows of despair. 


The Migraine and Headache Month Awareness challenge is organised by The American Headache and Migraine Association



 

How to Cultivate A Grateful Life – A Beginners Guide

A smiling Indian lady with long black hair and brown eyes holds her hands together in front (and to the side) in a Namaste Greeting. She is wearing a green, red and orange top with stud earrings, a silver watch and an orange and white bangle. There are white, green and maroon half circles in the corners and the wording at the top says ‘How to cultivate a Grateful Life: A Beginners Guide’
Click here to Share this Post

How to Cultivate A Grateful Life – A Beginners Guide – ‘I think of 3 positives at the end of each day and I’m thankful for my friends and family. This simple act has helped me grow as a parent during many tough times.’

How to Cultivate A Grateful Life – A Beginners Guide

In this step by step guide I’m going to show you how to grow from feeling mostly meh to predominantly pleased by lightening the load using these pointers. I’ll explain how my life as a parent with anxiety and chronic illnesses took me to the lowest lows of my life to being as well balanced and harmonious as a landscaped garden.

When I recognised that I was dragging my family down with me when I’d get grouchy with my boys or snap at my husband because I couldn’t cope, I knew I had to change. I had to find a way to climb out from the undergrowth for them and it was as simple as making 1 or 2 small changes first! This guide covers the 10 steps it took for me to live gratefully.

When the Light Dimmed and I Couldn’t Breathe

I struggled with my mental health on and off for years after Youngest was born. I had post-natal depression and suffered from panic attacks for months after nearly losing him many times in his first 48 hours. The first time we left the hospital for some fresh air, once he’d stabilised, I couldn’t breathe properly as soon as we stepped out of the hospital door.

After being checked out by doctors, I was told it was a panic attack. It happened again, each time I left him in the NICU and continued once we were home, especially as he was rushed back into hospital for a 5 day stay a few weeks later. I’d panic if he didn’t snuffle when sleeping and even had a GP tell me that he didn’t know what I wanted him to say.

I just needed to be told he was okay, which he was that day but not every day. All this went on in the same 12 months that I lost my Grandpa and Father In Law as well as four other family members and friends that died too young. Joel and I had to find our way through all of this heartbreak, which was a massive strain, and I needed my voice to be heard!

Finding the Air and The Space I Needed to Grow

I was in very a bad way when my GP listened and I was counselling sessions which had a positive impact. My counsellor guided me towards the air holes when everything was suffocating me. Joel held on tight to my hand and I had a 2 year old to think about as well as a baby so I fought hard and together we found the light we needed in our lives again.

Making these big changes led the way but it was little changes that were key to me being purposefully grateful for my family, my remarkable husband who gave me space when I needed it even whilst he was dealing with his own grief. I had 2 beautiful and healthy children (Youngest was given the all clear aged 1) )to be thankful for.

A photo showing my 2 children when I was spending time nurturing them and learning to be grateful for wha5 we had. They’re running across the grass, in front of the camera in profile, in Brighton Pavilion garden with the trees in the background. Eldest is closest to the camera and is wring jeans and a green, hooded winter coat. He has short brown hair and a big smile. Youngest is slightly ahead of him and much smaller. He’s also wearing jeans and an orange and cream, hood winter coat. He has ginger hair and has his head turned away from the camera.
As a family we grew stronger roots and the trail that the our tears left behind faded.

I needed time to nurture our boys and bed in strategies to keep me on a positive path. Just look at these faces to see all I had to be thankful for.

We got plenty of fresh air on family walks and I exercised outdoors when possible. I had breathing space to appreciate the world around me and to recognise all the positives I had in my life to celebrate!

Cherishing Life Every Day and Seeking Adventures

When I was diagnosed with migraines a couple of years later, it threatened to uproot all of the hard work we’d put in to creating space in which to appreciate our family and the life we’d built. But we’d done the tough bit and with Joel by my side I managed to stand tall, despite the wobble. In many ways it was the catalyst to my valuing every day with them.

So when my physical health stabilised we grasped every opportunity. We embraced travel with unbelievable family holidays and wonderful long weekends just the two of us. We embraced live music and made the most of living close to London and Brighton; immersing ourselves in the culture and experiences available to us.

When I took a promotion with full time hours when Youngest started school the challenges came and the cracks in the ground around me started to appear again with the stress. I had panic attacks driving to work or would arrive in tears. It wasn’t the right place for me.

A coral background with the text ‘Begin each day with a grateful heart in blue and white writing.

So I went back to part time hours and rediscovered my love for teaching and as part of a small school nurture every child.

I was happy to wake up and drive along the country lanes and have time to exercise and be with my family at weekends. But I needed the buzz of a challenge and landed a Senior Leadership role in a lovely school. Unfortunately I fell ill after one term and this project was abandoned mid sentence!

The Abandoned Vine and The Weeping Willow

It had been an on off relationship with cultivating a grateful life as my mental health wasn’t being nurtured continually. I was on uneven terrain so I became a weeping willow, a common symbol of grief. Isolated and feeling like the only one with a constant migraine, I hardly saw any friends because I found it hard to have a simple conversation.

I was stuck at home, unable to carry out plans we’d made to see gigs and I felt suffocated. When we were together as a family, I’d be shushing the kids over nothing because of my hyperacusis and getting grouchy, I couldn’t sit with Joel on my right because his deep voice triggered tinnitus. So family life became strained, left as though an abandoned vine.

I found other chronic migraineurs online but this compounded my feeling of hopelessness. However the light shone through my protective foliage when I found a group of amazing people who gave me support, inspiration and laughter. They helped me gather strength and find the positives again! Maybe I wouldn’t be left to go to rack and ruin after all!

It turned out that I was actually suffering from IIH or Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension. You can read more about this condition in this blog I wrote a while back: https://laughingwhileyourecrying.wordpress.com/what-is-idiopathic-intracranial-hypertensioniih-iih-brainandspine/p

The Beginners Guide to Results From Being Grateful

A wooden surface has most of a white porcelain heart on the left hand side of the image. It has the phrase ‘I am grateful’ in black text and hessian string tied through a whole at the top. Below is green background with the words ‘The Beginners Guide To Results From A Grateful Life’.
  1. Find someone to give practical advice to help you solve the root problem.
  2. Connect with someone to confide in when times are tough.
  3. Get help with complex applications for monetary support.
  4. Seek counselling through very tough times.
  5. Find your tribe, the people who get what your going through.
  6. Pass on acts of kindness to others going through similar situations.
  7. Share your story with those you could help those beyond your group.
  8. Change at least one habit to help you live a healthier lifestyle.
  9. Find at least one positive or small win from your day.
  10. Record your positives from each day In a way that you can refer back to.
  1. I was given a crash course in how to deal with chronic illness life, which at the time was still diagnosed as migraine. My migraine friends would chat to me on the phone when I had particularly bad days or worsening news. There were there to offer me practical advice, including introducing me to my trusty Migracap and meditation.
  2. I made many online friends but have been lucky to meet some of these truly amazing people who I could confide in, as well as having Joel of course. One truly amazing lady told me that she would be there in spirit to squeeze my right hand and she would squeeze back. This simple invitation became my safety harness!
  3. I learnt about options for having to leave my teaching career and how to plan for the future. I was supported when I had to fill out forms for ESA and PIP support and how to deal with the face to face meetings with them, social workers and more besides.
  4. Little did I know then where chronic illness life would take me. Having friends that get it to confide in meant that there was always someone there if I had bad news. If Joel was at work I might have to wait all day but his support is what got me through, I recognised early that I needed counselling again to help me cope with extremes.
  5. These people became my tribe and having them there got me through the really scary times when I couldn’t communicate at all. By this point I’d narrowed down my friendships where people disappeared when it got too much. But once I was diagnosed with IIH and had a treatment plan of how to help me, I had hope again.
  6. As my confidence improved I developed a more positive outlook because I could pass on these acts of kindness to friends I’d met online with similar symptoms to me. Meeting members of my community has allowed me to understand chronic illness better and I can offer advice based on other’s challenges from different perspectives.
  7. I started my blog to be able to support my readers during their own tough times. I share information for awareness of my Conditions and mental wellbeing. I share what’s helped me as a parent with chronic illness, finding a purpose and having a healthy lifestyle and have created a community where people can ask my advice.
  8. By being so open I’ve really found out who my true friends are so I’ve worked hard on developing my self esteem. I try not to let those who can’t cope with my no filter speak and inability to communicate well all the time, impact on my own wellbeing. Luckily I’m overwhelmed by the support and understanding my friends give me.
  9. I was inspired early on, when I first wrote this post in 2014, to think of one positive at the end of every day, however small. It could be that I managed to wash my hair or that I saw my nephews and nieces. It might be that Youngest and I baked a cake or that Eldest tidied his room – it’s rare. It might be that Joel and I watched a great film!
  10. Now I write 3 positives every morning in my journal about the day before as I’m too tired to write at night. I write 1 thing that made me happy, 1 thing that made me proud and 1 thing that I’m thankful for. If I’m going to always be in pain, I’d rather be happy in pain than miserable and in pain anyway.

Hey, you might like to check out my top tips for setting up your day to be positive using affirmations. These easy tips can help you to build on to these tips above. https://laughingwhileyourecrying.wordpress.com/2019/02/03/5-morning-affirmations-to-guarantee-a-successful-day

Conclusion

A quote saying ‘Just one positive thought in the morning can change your whole day. Anonymous

I give myself limited jobs to do each day, the amount depends on whether I have a friend visit, so that I can still take time to take that one positive thought and remind myself throughout the day.

My life is no longer about a teaching career but it is about the little things in life. Having a positive thought to focus on helps me to stay thankful for having supportive friends and most importantly every moment with my family.

Almost every day a friend will mention that they just don’t know how I’m able to stay positive despite being in constant, debilitating pain. I’ve been told by many friends that I am the strongest person they know or even that I am an inspiration to them. No, I’m not singing my own praises here; I just wanted to share how this makes me feel.

After years of living with mental and chronic illnesses, I’m honoured to be able to inspire my friends with my positivity. I feel that I’ve been passed along insider knowledge for helping others that are suffering with pain or illness; sharing closely guarded tips, tricks and wonderful acts of kindness. My strength has been sent my way and I share it freely.

If I can raise a smile for someone or give them extra strength to get through their day, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do when I started this blog. However, these days I can see what led to me thinking of one positive thought a day and now extend to recording 3 positive thoughts for every day.

If you can only do one of the 10 tips in this guide to a more grateful life, then please find your person to confide in. We all know someone who has needed someone to check on them at some point so if you can be a confidante then make sure your friends know they can talk to you about anything, at anytime. A grateful life starts with a small win and a grin!

Have you got any tips for creating a positively grateful lifestyle that I’ve not mentioned? Please pop them in the comments below. I’d love to read them and I do reply.

A woman in a blue dress standing in a field of yellow flowers with sunglasses on her face, looking up to the sunny sky. She has her arms open wide and is smiling. The text above says ‘How To Cultivate A Grateful Life: A Beginners Guide.’
PLEASE PIN ME 📌
(Link below or up there ↗️)

*If you feel you need professional help then please speak to your doctor. This information should not to replace medical guidance and is based on experience alone.

Chronic Illness Bloggers

Do you want to get all the best content and get access to my VIP library? Grab a copy of this free positive printable today when you sign up to my occasionally regular newsletter now!

A wooden desk with the writing ‘Free Journal Prompts for a better you! There is a PDF symbol with an arrow to suggest this is a free printable. There is an open notebook and a blue pen resting in the nook where the book is bound. The wording superimposed on the book says ‘Original poetry, quotes and questions for positive journaling.

✋Hey there! You could really help me out. Just one minute of your time to press that share button helps me so much! You’ll literally make me do a bed-bound happy dance. Now there’s an image for you! Go on, you know you want to!