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How To Focus To Stop Being Flooded With Worry

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How To Stop Being Flooded With Worry

The Worry Flood!

What on earth am I going on about? Worry is a part of human nature and is a shared experience. However the way everyone experiences worry is another thing…

I know this idea of a Worry Flood might sound strange, but bear with me and I think you’ll see what I mean…well, I hope so! I can only describe it in ‘technical’ terms as a weird VaVoom drop and then the rush of worry that floods you from head to toe!

More simply, this is that feeling in the pit of your stomach before your heart races! The sickening sinking feeling that joins in can last seconds or days. I imagine there aren’t many people that haven’t experienced it at least once in their lives

The extent of worrying for you and me

Unfortunately some of us (*raising hand awkwardly even though no one’s home) worry to such extent that it can cause debilitating anxiety or even panic attacks. This is when worry has gone from flood to tsunami and your techniques stop working.

You might be in a very similar situation to me, but because of all sorts of factors, you may be able to brush off that Va-voom feeling quickly. Then take a deep breath to reboot, gain your composure and can carry on with what you were doing.

However, when I forget to check myself, worry quickly swirls into a whirlwind. Guilt, doubt and fear enclose me and I get caught in the eye of the storm; in panic mode until the dust settles. This happens less and less as I’ve had help from experts.

I’m not an expert, so if you feel like this, please seek medical advice.

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Worry becomes anxiety or panic.

Worry is experienced to varying extents but everyone shares that initial adrenaline rush. That heart quickening and stomach sinking feeling, is a common experience, but there are vast differences in how you and I then react. The extent of one person’s worry is almost impossible to comprehend.

How does worry affect you? Are you a worry wort or chronically concerned? And why the heck does worry exist? First, the science geeky stuff behind what you and I feel and experience.

Why does worry exist?

Life is full of uncertainty and this is what drives solutions and new ways to look at things. You can only prepare so much for things that are going to happen, at some point. When you can prepare, you’re able to take back some control of the situation.

And that’s the key point: Control!

You only have control of what is happening to you now! You can’t control what has happened; good or bad. But you can learn from your mistakes and successes to shape your future decision making so even without full control, you forge your path.

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A lack of control… Photo by ehsan ahmadnejad

Having a lack of control over the future is often that pivotal moment when apprehension turns into worry. You can only solve possible future problems to a certain point, before you literally can’t prepare anymore.

You might start trying to predict every eventuality; asking ‘what if’s’ and going over and over problems. All of that is going to dredge that worry monster up – I’ve been there!

How to react to feeling flooded with worry

If you’re still here then I’m guessing it’s pretty likely that you’re a worrier. Hopefully you’ve learnt how to handle worry so you can avoid destruction. It’s vital that you do build these strategies up so that Worry doesn’t stop you living your best life.

I’ll throw you some life lines a little further down the page, so stick with me a bit longer and learn the skills I’ve built for the least disturbance in my life.

But first the sciencey geeky stuff!

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The Sciencey Geeky Stuff Photo by Toni Cuenca

a) You put up barriers, like sand bags, doing all you can to avoid failure. You avoid any vulnerability, that you are never budging from that comfort zone. You’ll miss out on learning about your potential and becoming a stronger person. You stop living!

b) You’ve built defences so you don’t have to worry about anyone or anything. You see where the day takes you. Not the best long term plan, but I get it, you’re protecting yourself. You could end up living a very lonely life though.

c) You let the water freeze around you, creating a protective bubble. When you start to feel uncomfortable, you give up and take the easy option! You’ll forget what the world has to offer to you.

I’ve just described 3 examples of The Stress response: fight, flight or freeze. All primal examples of how animals respond to fear. I’ve explained The Stress Response in this blog: How to Create Clarity in a Busy Mind in 15 minutes

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Photo by Darrel Und on Pexels.com

I also wanted to share this article by James Clear about The Evolution of Anxiety. James is an author and photographer who shares the latest scientific research about human habits and potential.

A giraffe makes immediate choices such as: “When you are hungry, you walk over and munch on a tree. When a storm rolls across the plains, you take shelter under the brush. When you spot a lion stalking you and your friends, you run away.”

“[M]ost of your choices as a giraffe (…) make an immediate impact on your life. You are constantly focused on the present or the very near future.”

Animals live in a state scientists call an immediate-return environment. However, as we’ve evolved we’ve lost that immediate reward of food, shelter or safety.

“Most of the choices you make today will not benefit you immediately. (..) [E.g.] If you save money now, you’ll have enough for retirement.  (..) [The things we] worry about are problems of the future.”

Humans live in a Delayed Return Environment. “[This can] lead to chronic stress and anxiety,(…) because your brain wasn’t designed to [work in this environment]”

Why do you need to know this?

You need strategies that help you respond to today’s societal expectations. You need techniques to help you avoid stress response. Ideally these need to be so practised that they’re what you turn to in a split second, when you recognise your triggers.

This takes time and dedication, working on yourself and ideally having an expert to guide you. I’m years into this and still get tripped up sometimes. If they’re available at your fingertips, you can press pause on the Worry Flood and get back to dry land.

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Build a dam to divert the Worry Flood into canals Photo by Quintin Gellar

You build a Dam by de-watering (in this case) the habits you’ve used for years. Then you learn  distractions and ways to create calm. Once you’ve done this you can use floodgates to divert the Worry Flood in to a canal, giving you more control to deal with smaller sections of the bigger problem.

Once you’ve curbed your anxieties you’ll be more equipped to counteract the Worry Flood. The less your thoughts are eroded the less you’ll struggle. You’ll be armed because use you’ve built barricades and have a safe place where to continue to grow

How it feels to be flooded with worry!

I’ve been out of my depth many times and lately I’ve been struggling;  worry that has been overwhelming at times. I’ve failed to recognise the Amber alerts and have become engulfed with anxiety and panic attacks. So I have to start rebuilding again.

I realised I’ve been stuck in this whole delayed return environment phase. Behind the scenes, I’m developing all I need to launch a better Paprika Jewellery & Accessories. But the reward is a way off yet and with the pressure I put on myself I just didn’t spot the triggers!

I’ve spent the last few years building easily accessible skills. I used them regularly so when it comes to times like this; I’d have some control to slow down the flood. When I realised it hadn’t worked, I ensured to get my routine back. Now I’ve got my sights back on my main goal of being well enough to spend time with family and friends.

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How to Focus when that flood warning is given

So I want to share my top tips for controlling the Worry Flood, by diverting the overload into canals where I could catch smaller sections of water. This allows me to use my strategies to rebuild, dealing with smaller sections of the bigger problem.

These skills have become my go to, picked up through research, forums and work with qualified practitioners. They’re personalised for my triggers, but I’m able to share them in a way that you can developthem for your own needs. Remember, it’s not just building walls and they may need you to step outside of your comfort zone! 

 My Top Tips for Worry Flooding

  • The 1st thing you do each day is set yourself just 1 goal that you commit to. This can be about anything. Check in with yourself a few times a day to see if you’re on track.
  • At the end of the day, write a done list! it feels really good to reward yourself by knowing what you have achieved and think less about what you haven’t. I try and make this really positive and celebrate things I’m happy, proud and grateful for.
  • Use a timer to focus on productivity. I do this when writing and on social media. I need to balance time spent online with energy for my family and friends. You can download a free planner here- How to Create Clarity in a Busy Mind in 15 minutes
  • Plan to keep yourself on track. I love planning, but use my long term goals to keep on track as I write my planner each week. If I don’t achieve something, I rub it out and reorganise. Breaking down a problem into chunks make it easier to control.
  • Block similar work together. For example, I find all photos I need in one go, instead of with each blog. This is just right now that I’ve explored what works for me.
  • Use music to set the tone. I really missed music when I was really poorly. I’m bringing it back in to my life gently, but with purpose. I use an album as a timer; a playlist for productivity or ambient sounds for concentration.
  • Use the notes on your phone to keep track of your ideas whenever and wherever. I use it to plan my writing or to keep track of medical notes. I know I’ll always have what I need for some control in unplanned or stressful situations.
  • Recognise the little voice in your head. Don’t miss the Amber flood warning, practising your best on the spot techniques. I write stream of consciousness rants to stop me going over something that can’t be changed. It’s also helped me stop saying sorry so often and use more positive language than negative.
  • Meditation is the best skills to learn if you worry. It helps you build layers of protection and grounds you. Learn when to be vulnerable and when to let go. You can learn quick centring techniques easily. I meditate every day and I’ll tell you why in this post. 5 Meditation Myths Stopping You Relieve Hidden Stress
  • Learn breathing techniques. It’s especially effective when for me, when I feel that first wave of worry. Try putting a hand on your heart or stomach and take a few deep breaths to compose yourself.  There are many techniques, so experiment to see what works for you. I recommend this guide: 1 minute breathing exercises
  • Live in the moment. As I’ve said, now is the only time you have control of your next choice. Step outside your comfort zone and embrace life right now. Be present and live to your fullest potential. If a planning freak like me can do it, I’m sure you can.
  • Develop a sleeping pattern that works for you. So 8 hours in a dark room at the same time each night, might be your thing, but let’s get real; this isn’t going to work for everyone. I sometimes get no sleep due to pain, bleurgh…. But if I sleep well, I cope with the pain better. Find things that help you relax and try setting a bedtime routine. You should be more equipped for handling worries.
  • Face your fears. I’ve embraced things that scare me from my bed, so try not to get hung up on bolstering barricades. Do something that makes you uncomfortable. I think you’d be surprised by how it makes you feel and the response from others!
  • Affirmations are statements you can use to manifest your potential and strengthen your self belief. They help me so much that I’ve designed a free printable available until the 31st March, if you sign up to my newsletter. Check out the link at the end of this post. Here’s a guide to use them to set yourself up for a very productive day. 5 Morning Affirmations To Guarantee A Successful Day!
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Learn from my tips to develop your own strategies for worry and anxiety Photo credit Natalia Figueredo

In Conclusion

I hope I’ve not been too metaphor happy, so these are the key points to take away:

There’s many ways to protect yourself from too much worry, so explore and find what suits you. Build up layers of protection, whilst also being vulnerable, Step outside your comfort zone and remember the power of diversions.

Fight, flight or freeze (stress response) are reactions to perceived threat. This is a primal response, but we know experience that from stress and worry. We also have to wait for reward most of the time, which can heighten our anxiety. Develop skills and strategies that give you some control and help reduce the extent of your worry.

When planning ahead, focus on leaving room to reflect. Writing your concerns can help stop you overthinking.. You can only control right now, so practise different strategies that focus on letting go of control.

*This is based on my own experiences and is just my opinion, unless referenced. If you are struggling with stopping worry overload, please seek medical advice.

I’d love to know how you focus to cope with worry in the comments! 

Chronic Illness Bloggers

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The Impact of Positive Mindset on Taking the Old into the New #NYE2018 #positivemindset #poetry

Here’s my take on using positive mindset strategies to let go of the old in anticipation of the wonderful opportunities ahead. More importantly, I talk about the importance of spending time in the now!

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I hope you can make 2019 the year that you learn to be present and mindful of taking each day at a time. Please enjoy my poem and then spend a little time reading it again to recognise where you could take on 1 New way of looking at a part of your life next year!

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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

How to stay sane when stuck in bed with chronic illness or recovering from surgery. An insider’s guide

Staying level headed with debilitating pain. 

Those of you that already follow my story know I’m no stranger to surgery. I’ve  had my 3rd brain stent surgery for IIH (Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension ) on 15th November. I was aiming to get downstairs on Saturday and I made it. It’s so important to have goals to keep you motivated. I had a family day yesterday too!

But I’m going to be spending this week in bed again recovering, as expected. My pain levels are high today and I had a bad night’s sleep, but I don’t regret it. Days with family are what keep you going . My condition is extremely debilitating but I’m not seeking sympathy; I share my experiences to raise awareness!

Please note: if you have questions about IIH, any chronic illness or mental health concerns; please speak to a trained health professional. These tips are about self care and any advice I share is based on my own experiences.

I shared this selfie on social media, 10 days after surgery. It was youngest’s 13th birthday and I was in bed, fed up that I couldn’t celebrate. The response to this post has been amazing. I received lots of supportive messages and my husband, Joel, was asked at work how I stay sane and positive when I’m stuck in bed for weeks – struggling to get to my en-suite bathroom at times.

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So here’s my guide to staying sane as a chronic and invisible illness warrior! 

  • Don’t fight the pain! I used to be determined not to give in to the pain and I’d push myself to do too much too soon, making my recovery take longer. Now, I try to listen to my body and have retrained my brain to know that it’s okay to rest, This has taken years of making mistakes, until being taught to recognise and change patterns in my behaviour by my coach, Josie (details below).
  • Ask friends and family to tell you when you’re looking tired. It’s easy to miss signs that you’re flagging, but don’t shy away from asking those close to you to say if you look like you need to rest. If someone tells me I look rough I’m not offended, I just realise that I do hurt a lot and may need that pain relief!

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  • Remember your condition doesn’t only affect you. A delicate ecosystem occurs for most familes when someone has a chronic illlness. This means any change has an effect on family life. If you’re the one in constant pain, then your contribution to family life is probably limited. For example, I usually do online grocery shopping and am usually the mediator. Plan for those times when you can’t make your usual contribution. Try asking a friend to pop to the shops or do some jobs around the house, so your partner doesn’t have to do everything!
  • Give yourself time to recover. I always seem to forget how tough living with daily high level pain is or how hard recovery from surgery is. So I tend to think I’ll cope better than I actually can. Now I set myself goals and break these down into smaller steps. E.g restarting your physio or getting dressed before venturing downstairs. Whatever goals/steps you take need to be all about you! This is the time to practice self care! Maybe keep a pain diary or notes after surgery, so you can look back at what has worked for you in the past,

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  • Be honest about having visitors. Let’s be honest, the novelty of surgery soon wears off and friends might get bored with your chronic illness. You’ll probably stop getting as many flowers and cards, but hopefully your friends will still support you as much as ever. For me, receiving a text cheers me up, but having visitors (when you can) is vital! You’ll get a mental boost and it breaks up the bedroom boredom. But, if you’re in too much pain; be brave and postpone. True friends will understand and if they don’t, then you don’t need them!
  • Keep a gratitude journal. I spend time every day reflecting on what I’m thankful for. I write 3 positive things in my diary every night or the following morning, This can be anything and it’s the little things that count when you’re recovering from surgery or a bad flare. Washing my hair, managing to eat a proper meal, having a snuggle with Joel or a giggle with my boys mean so much to me in that acute pain phase. I’d suggest starting getting into this routine before surgery. It’s also really nice to share these with friends or family!
  • Meditate. I can’t explain how much meditation helps keeps me calm in hospital and in the following weeks. I download my favourite meditations (in case there’s no WiFi) on my phone and take my headphones to block out the horrible noises on a ward. They also help me sleep between hourly obs through the night! I also use techniques I’ve learnt to visualise my happy place to lie still during a procedure or anaesthetic. You can read my tips for meditation here.
  • Use affirmations to visualise positivity. Ok, so I know the word meditation may have scared you off, but stay with me! Using affirmations has been the key to staying sane through 3 brain and spine surgeries this year! I also use affirmations cards from TheYesMum  (@theyesmummum on Instagram) daily.

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My coach Josie, from Worry Freedom created personalised affirmations to help manage my worries, which are mainly about how surgery impacts my family. She turned each concern into a positive affirmation, such as ‘I am proud that my boys have built resilience’. I record these as voice memos on my phone and listen to them before, during and after my stay in hospital. They’ve helped me to stop worrying about everyone else and concentrate on my one job – healing.

  • Ask family to spend time with you in your bedroom. When you’re always in bed, it can get very lonely. So, whether it’s snuggling with Joel watching TV, having a chat about the day or watching a film with everyone on the bed; having my family come to me is so important. For example, we ate youngest’s birthday meal in my bedroom, so that I could still be a part of his special day.
  • Entertainment. I’ve always been against TVs in bedrooms (personal choice), but after my first surgery Joel set one up in my bedroom so I could watch my favourite comfort movies. It’s stayed! I rely on my iPad so when we realised this was going to be our new normal, Joel set up Apple TV so I have lots of choice. I’ve also have audible and Spotify so I can listen to gentle music or spoken word on the days when I can’t open my eyes.
  • Bonus Tip – When you’re doing better, but still stuck in bed or the house I think you need a hobby. Many chronic illness warriors craft and this helped me not to feel so lost when I’d been diagnosed. I’d taken silversmithing classes before falling ill, so I began making beaded and up-cycled creations. Now I run my own online business with an Etsy shop. I’m closed whilst I recover, but I’ll be posting more about this as I prepare for reopening. You can see what I make on my social media pages too. ⬇️

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So these are my top 10 tips for managing to stay positive, or at least rational when can’t do anything. But hey, we’re all different and these are just what works for me, If you’ve got the money to invest in working with a coach, do it! It’s all about finding solutions and a good coach can change your outlook! I had counselling after diagnosis, when I was still grieving for the life I’d had. If you’re struggling please talk to your GP/Doctor straight away!

Are you recovering from major surgery? Do you have a chronic illnesses? I’d love to hear about what you’ve tried if you’re housebound or bed-bound. What tips do you have to keep rational and level-headed? 

Chronic Illness Bloggers

A poem for all chronic illness warriors ‘It’s okay to rest!’ #chronicillness #chronicblogs

Are you a chronic illness warrior?

Do you fight the pain everyday? Do you even get cross with your body for not doing what you want to! I do, but I’m working hard to remember that it’s okay to rest!

I hope this helps you if you feel guilty for doing nothing. Just listen to your body!

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It’s okay to rest!

My body fights the constant pain
And drains all my energy spares.
My body ransoms my attempts to move
Yet soothes the grief for what was.
My body tricks my brain into a spin
Though wins with time to calm my mind.
My body taunts with glimmers of light
When nights are long and sleep is gone.
My body is learning it’s okay to rest
But tests the deal that I’ve made to heal.
My body and mind still fight the pain,
But gains most when I concede to rest.
Now I believe that it’s okay to rest!

Copyright Laura McKee 2018

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My world: mum, wife, creator, teacher

Two years ago I wrote a blog about the guilt that comes with being a chronically ill mum. There are still ups and downs and guilt does still come and slap me in the face ocassionally, but I have strategies to deal with it now. I also try and remember the words of a counsellor I once saw; guilt is the feeling of being angry with something/one but not being able to express the anger so it turns in on yourself in the form of guilt. I wanted to write a more positive post 2 years on and explore how these roles have evolved and the lessons I have learnt on this tough journey.

I have come a long way in my understanding that this is going to affect me life forever. There were never any guarantees with any of the operations I will and have had. That acceptance in itself is a huge thing to process. There are many issues for all of us to cope with still , but we have to believe that things will eventually improve and become less invasive. To see a little improvement with each operation gives us optimism for the future.

In the title of this blog, I describe myself in my many roles, but I am first and foremost a wife and mother.  Depression, brain fog and dealing with guilt about being ill, had dampened my connection with these roles. I went through a long period of feeling that this illness was somehow my fault, which it is not at all, of course. I am now mostly able to fill my head with a positive spin on this and we make a concerted effort to discuss with the boys that the situation we are in is due to my illness; not due to choices I am making. We have developed strategies to support the whole family through this but of course I wish I could just get up every day and be a normal mum!

We are all affected by the constraints of my illness, all the time, but most profoundly when I have a long spell trapped in my bedroom cocoon. Weeks not days, of being barely able to move have taken it’s toll but we’re gradually turning this around by the adjustments we’ve made to our home (discussed in previous post). I am determined to live as normal a life as possible, even if it costs me spoons. We only have one life don’t we? Our new normal has to take into account my illness, but if we wait until I’m well enough; we may never do what we love. If I wait until I have no pain before I engage in discussion with my friends or carers then I will just be lonely. If I wait until I can walk then we may never go out again! Normalising this is hard for us all but my personal grieving period is coming to an end.

I believe that I am a better mother and wife because of this illness. They say everything happens for a reason. Now, the joy of being at home, especially when I make it downstairs, when the children get home from school and my husband gets home from work is thruly the best feeling and I am lucky enough to have that every day. I wouldn’t wish this disease on anybody and it could have easily ripped us apart, but with the investment of time, energy, commitment, often a little mediation, from all of us; I truly believe we are all better people from this experience. Oh boy, it’s tough; but as a team, we are unstoppable!

I have no real desire to go back to teaching, but I still think like a teacher and the future I dream of involves my love of teaching and all the skills I have gained, being combined with my creative business. Teaching isn’t a job, it’s a way of life and I will always be a teacher! Teaching made me confident, it enthralled and excited me and I would never have dreamt that I’d have my own business, especially not whilst being so ill. Selling things I have handmade, fills me with pride and a sense of empowerment and definitely keeps me sane!

I feel lucky to have such a wonderful life. I really have made amazing memories with my husband and children. I have fulfilled my childhood ambition and achieved so much more than I ever expected in my teaching career. I have met so many people that are compassionate, empathetic and loyal, shown in the amazing support network around me and from my new group of friends. I have been lucky to travel to great places and see amazing things and even now, I still see life as an amazing gift. I cannot always feel full of positivity and spoone life is filled with many challenges for all of my family every day, but I have a greater understanding of my path. This life has given me the tools to cope with change and adjustments, whist guiding my family carefully alongside me in this journey. It has made me realise that you cannot wait for things to get better or until you have enough money or until you wake up in the morning. We never know what is around the next corner so please grab every opportunity with both hands, don’t wait for life to come to you. Always say goodnight to your family and lastly, never go to bed on an argument! Life is just too short!

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’
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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.

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*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.

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