Luckily for you, dear reader, I won't continue to write in rhyme for this post about the lead up to Christmas.
This year I've had to be more 'mindful' than in previous Christmasses of how I've felt every day. The idea behind the #12DaysOfXmasMH was to show what it is really like to manage a mental health condition every day.
As it turns out, it has been particularly educational for me because from being tired out and stressed at the end of the year's work, to absolutely calm and content a couple of days later, just from having the right amount of sleep, to it being the day before Christmas Day and waking up feeling the usual anxieties associated with the pressures of the season.
I've heard a lot of negative opinions on mindfulness from people, especially in the city environment where I work. They've said that mindfulness is 'fluffy', 'pointless', 'embarrassing', 'strange', 'not my kind of thing' and 'something I tried but couldn't get into'. I would have to agree with some of these statements. Firstly, I'm really bad at relaxing.(I'm actually a lot better at it now, but that means I've gone from someone who needed to sit watching a film whilst washing was on while playing angry birds while writing my blog and twitching my toes in regular patterns, to someone who's writing her blog while watching a film. And the washing is on. But that's it, I promise.) Secondly, the first time I realised that I had been really stressed was last year, when for the first time in about twenty-something years, I was actually relaxed for the first time. It was definitely the biggest 'AHA' moment ever!
When I was in hospital last summer I attended mindfulness groups, which were part of the treatment plan to develop better ways to manage our mental health and improve our mood and self-care. I had to stop lying down for the exercises as I was totally unable to stay awake during the sessions, and now when I listen to my Headspace app (which I should do more as it's really helpful) I follow its guidelines when the soothing voice tells me that it's better to sit up straight rather than lie down. Plus, the videos at the beginning of the exercises are really cute. There are long exercises to learn for mindfulness practitioners eventually, but even an exercise of ten minutes in length is quite tricky to follow.
But the point isn't to 'do an exercise' or 'complete' a fixed length of meditation (unless I've totally missed the point, that is). The point is for each of us to ask ourselves, "How are you doing right now?" "What's going on in your head?" "How well are you feeling?".
This could last 10 seconds or even 5 if you can answer it in that time. So, for the last eleven days, each time I've made a short video of myself out and about, waking up, exercising, walking, making juices, playing computer games or watching Netflix... Or all of them, I've had to tell my iphone video camera how I felt. And it has actually helped me to take better care of myself.
I was shaking with anxiety on day two so even though I felt like a big body-shaped bowl of jelly on a powerplate I made myself go to one of the bootcamp classes I'd signed up for for this month, and the jog there, the many squats and circuits, and finally the run back exhausted some of that nervous energy and made me feel better just one hour later.
(I should add that I could hardly sit or stand the next day, the day after, or the day after that because of the squats. So, whilst lurching around on days 3-5 attempting but failing to walk, but hey, at least I was distracting myself!) The learning: I needed to treat my anxiety there and then to prevent it from getting worse. And I did what I could.
Other days I felt exceptionally rested and relaxed after having a proper night of sleep. Having to notice that feeling first thing in the morning because of the video diaries was actually really helpful, because I was grateful for it. It's not just the bad times or the bad moments I want to notice throughout a life managing a mental health problem (and, of course, life, love, work and everything else... you know, the small stuff) but the times when I'm feeling happy, still, energised, rested, at peace and all of those wonderful other feelings that I bet I take for granted most of the time. The learning here - it's actually lovely to notice myself feeling good, and just stay with that feeling of contentment for a little while. It meant I stayed in bed a little longer than usual, but it felt good to do it, and it was the holiday, so why not?
And yesterday I was hugely frustrated, angry, tired, worried, anxious, and totally restless. Making the #12DaysOfXmasMH meant that I noticed that too. I was cheerful and smiley with the sunshine and off to do the recycling (I know, the glamour) but on return home with our Christmas food and cheese we were locked out of our building and had to wait for a locksmith to charge us the delightful sum of £250+ for a new lock, new set of building keys for all the residents, only to find out later that they've given us a key that can only be re-made at a locksmith miles away for much more money. We didn't manage the walk we had planned and I was exhausted by the annoyance of it all. Low frustration tolerance stuck again.
This was truly not a big deal; a minor detail in a great week, and we'll even get the money refunded to us. But the point for suffering with depression has never been that 'there are people starving in Africa who are much worse off'... we all know that (I think, anyway), but it doesn't stop us from being ill just because someone else is worse off. We're just ill anyway. It might even make us feel worse that we can't feel better because we know our lives our good and we should.
At the end of these fourteen days of Christmas, for mental health, what mindfulness has really meant is being aware of the good, the bad and the ugly feelings and handling them as needed. Noticing negative thoughts, restlessness, anxiety flutters, insomnia and disinterest in things as early as possible means I can (hopefully) take some steps to treat these nasty visitors before they become permanent house guests.
If noticing that means I am well more often, for longer, or that I avoid having to take time off from work because the niggling feelings have festered and grown, then good. That is the sort of mindfulness I can support fully, and advocate for others. And if I do feel like standing on one leg, completing a ten minute meditative exercise involving a raisin or whatever else, well, then, each to one's own...
To all of you, remember to take a breather whenever you need to this holiday, and have a Christmas that is as calm, contented and charming (in the best sense), and as you do, I'll be remembering the same thing and taking it one breath at a time. Love and peace to all. x