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Thoughts from a Small Island

Random words from my mind

A Tentative Start

This is going to be used by me as a means of escape from what is currently whizzing round my head.

I have no idea how often I will be updating it but I hope that by posting what I feel about things it may encourage others to speak up or seek help in their own way. It might not be easy to read for some and I offer no apologies for that but my intention is to help open doors and people’s thinking toward mental illness and how it affect not just the ‘patient’ but also those around them.

Stay safe

Featured post

New year…..slightly updated me

It’s been a while since I posted anything here so I thought I would just give you all a little insight in to what has been happening in the world of a thinker who lives on an island (hence the name).

The short answer, to be completely truthful, is not very much.

I survived my first Christmas in the backstage area of the store I work in without losing myself along the way and got some really positive feedback on how I worked and coped with some, at times, challenging decisions (and customers). I have then been keeping myself up to date about an upcoming refurbishment of our customer toilets (I get all the good jobs), sorting out our telephone numbers for the store (exciting stuff) and learning more about the downstairs part of our operations team. For the first time in a long time I have felt confident in my own decision making at work and have even managed to relay information to my manager without getting myself tied up in knots about whether I’ve said the right thing or not.

I have also made a little progress in my art work and took a massive leap of faith by directly approaching a multi national company as to whether they would like to use one of my designs on their carrier bags. Initially the customer service team said that although they love it themselves, it’s not something they deal with so have promised to pass on my work and contact details to the relevant department. Now, I’m not expecting miracles to happen but the fact that they even replied in a non generic way about how they liked the design is enough of a thumbs for me to go on. I haven’t heard back from them as yet, but I took my email one step further and also forwarded it on myself to their media and social department. I await their response…………

Today I have contacted a local shop about stocking some of my pieces in there. It is a local shop for local people (not THAT kind of shop) who are craft / art minded and wish to sell their wares in a slightly less stressful environment. The shop rents space out monthly to artists and I made enquiries for some of larger, framed pieces that I have. Their reaction to my initial photos of my work was promising, so that might be another avenue for me to pursue in the near future.

Then, there is this coming week at home where we might actually be doing some proper decorating in our house for the first time since we bought it. Granted, it’s our daughters room we’re doing but she bought the paint herself before we moved and we promised her we’d do it. After much shouting at her to get her room cleaned (she’s a typical teenager with a ‘floordrobe’ and junk everywhere) the time has finally come. If we have time we might also give the kitchen a lick of ‘Andalusia’ (or yellow as it’s commonly called). Only thing now though is that since we decided on the colours for the living room / dining room those years ago, those same colours are no longer available. Looks like more trips around DIY shops are on the horizon

Finally, after all the work and art stuff I am still the same old me, albeit with a little more self assurance than I had at this point last year. My motivation for exercise at the moment is still non existent and I’m unsure how to find that ‘spark’ again, even though I have new trainers that I’ve only worn twice and new running leggings I bought in the sale. I will get out there, but I just don’t know when and it’s starting to really frustrate me, even though I know it’s only my own battle. My work is still quite physical so it’s not like I do nothing at all, and I walk to / from work every day (about 3.5 miles in total) but I miss the loneliness of running.

I know that sounds odd that I might enjoy loneliness but it’s a different kind of freedom than the feeling of actually being lonely.

Anyway, one foot in front of the other and just keep going……………

Grinch

I think I’ve done pretty well this year. I’ve made it to 10 days until the big day before I start to despise the enforced happiness and fake goodwill.

Normally it begins around the start of the month but I think that because I no longer work on the shop floor I have managed to avoid the ‘excitement’ of it (if you can call it that).

This is my last weekend off before Christmas and I spent yesterday just mooching around town like I usually do but with the added bonus of having to buy ‘Secret Santa’ presents. It wasn’t too bad though because I went for the ‘safe’ option of gifts.

Today however was a little different.

We had made plans a few weeks ago to go across the water to the big island and visit the Southampton Christmas Market. There was my parents, my wife, daughter and myself (obviously) and we took the car over as, surprisingly, it was cheaper than the 5 of us going as foot passengers. The crossing was fine and I had my headphones on to drown out the sound of the general public with the soothing tunes on Kerrang! radio. On arrival in Southampton we parked the car and headed up in to the shopping centre and then out on to the high street. I felt anxious with the amount of people around me but safe in the company of my family.

The market was full of the usual type of Christmassy gifts that aren’t usually available in the shops (there’s a good reason for that…..most of the stuff will end up in a charity shop in the new year) but the atmosphere was relaxed. After a good wander, we then hit the proper shops. Primark, Lush, Superdry, Forbidden Planet (it’s a comic book, sci fi place…not what you’re all thinking) and many more we went in and out of. It felt good to be somewhere different and I actually enjoyed myself. We made it in good time back to the ferry and that’s when it all changed.

I began to feel like I had just wasted the whole day.

In my head I was thinking that I’ve spent money on half of a ferry fare, lunch for the 3 of us (an overpriced but very tasty pork and apple sauce baguette) and half of the car park fee and the only thing I had to show for it was a book that I could have bought at home. I sat on the ferry with my headphones on just staring out the window in to darkness feeling my mood darken too. I try to enjoy Christmas and the build up to it but every year I get myself in to a bad mood by trying to enjoy Christmas and the build up to it.

I have therefore spent this evening sorting out laundry, doing the dishes and generally putting myself in an even more bad mood before ordering a pizza for my tea and watching crap on tv.

I seem to have this incredible ability to turn a good day into a bad day at the flick of my mood.

At least I can console myself with the fact that in 10 days time it will all be over and I’ll be able to be my usual anxious, depressive self instead of the Christmas anxious and depressive me (basically the same me but with a naff jumper on).

However, I have agreed to us all wearing Christmas pyjamas as it’s probably the only day where it’s socially acceptable to not get dressed.

But that is my limit.

Epic Fail and Low Self Esteem

The last couple of months I’ve felt the happiest I have been for a long time.

Work is good since moving away from the sales floor and the general public. Although I miss my colleagues downstairs I don’t miss the general rudeness and unpleasant treatment from the majority of the paying public. Home and family life is also great. I can watch my daughter at swimming training in the evenings and I’ve begun reading (or rather listening) to audiobooks. I truly don’t know why I’ve never listened to an audiobook before because it’s effortless. Reading normally doesn’t interest me. I can read a few chapters of a book, put it down and then leave it for months before finally picking it back up and going through a few more chapters. With an audiobook to listen to I can carry on drawing at the same time (yes, I know, a man who can multitask) or just sit and chill out. In the last 2 months I have listened to 4 books ranging from Norse mythology, autobiography and historical accounts.

I am also still regularly attending the anxiety cafe both in the evening twice a month, and on a Wednesday morning when it’s my day off.

Which brings me to today’s little outburst.

On looking at the list of activities I noticed that today was to be ‘Movement with Hannah’ and in a little way I was quite keen to take part.

I arrived nice and early, took a seat and was made a lovely cup of tea to warm up with. I cannot stress enough how friendly and welcoming it always is at the cafe and everybody is very accommodating. More people arrived and there was a lovely buzz in the room. One of my favourite things about anxiety cafe is the completely non-judgmental atmosphere at every session. There is never any pressure to take part or even to stay for the whole session.

The session practitioner arrived and she was a lovely lady. Bouncy in character and with lively pink hair she was immediately engaging and took a genuine interest in how we all felt, being incredibly aware of our collective anxiety.

My head however was fully preoccupied with thoughts of what today would involve. I believed that it would be gentle movement in a kind of Tai Chi way and I would end up relaxed and refreshed. My mind was already made up that it was going to be a meditative day.

Epic fail. This was to be my downfall.

The session started calmly enough with some head tilts, shoulder lifts and neck rolls. Great, just what I was expecting. Then I was overcome with a feeling that EVERYONE was looking at me (they weren’t, they were too busy participating). The music got slightly more upbeat and the activity level gradually increased. This was in complete contrast to me who got more self conscious and my activity level stopped.

My eyes fixed on the floor, my hands clasped together and I started running my thumbnail backwards and forwards along the side of my hand.

I looked around and everybody was joining in, doing whatever they felt physically comfortable with and enjoying themselves. Meanwhile the only physical activity coming from me was nervously bouncing legs and tapping fingers.

Why was I this anxious?

Why couldn’t I join in without feeling self conscious?

I made the decision to leave. I hurriedly stood up, got my hat and my coat and left whilst briefly saying my goodbyes and apologising at the same time. All the time still feeling like I was the worst person ever. I opened the door and didn’t look back in case I saw the looks of disappointment in everyone’s eyes. There wouldn’t be any looks of course as everyone is too lovely but my head was telling me “just go home, you’re a failure.”

What brought this feeling on? I have no idea but my immediate thought is that because I made myself think the activity was going to be one thing and it turned out to be another I felt unprepared. I had built my expectations up so high that when it wasn’t what I expected I felt like I’d let myself down. I felt that if I stayed I would have made it less enjoyable for everyone else as they would have been worried about how I was feeling.

I’m now sat at home with a big chicken and bacon pasta salad, Bargain Hunt (standard daytime viewing) on the TV and a cup of tea.

Oh well, the main thing to take away from this is that I tried xx

#Anxiousandawesome

Today’s blog is all about telling the world one person at a time that no matter what mental health issues you, or I may have we are all in this together.

I could be beaming on the outside but most days there is a tiny person inside screaming “..don’t do it, you’ll never cope. People will think you’re weird”

I could be socialising at a party but inside I’m thinking “..everyone hates me, I don’t even know why I bother”

I know I’m not alone in having these thoughts but I do know that when I have them I feel like I’m alone.

So how do I go about telling people that this is just who I am? To help others understand how I, and many others feel?

Well, the answer to that my dear readers is a project called ‘Anxious & Awesome’ that is springing up across the small island and beginning to make a very sizable dent in the internet (I’m not sure that it’s ACTUALLY possible to dent the internet but just humour me here).

The project is the brainchild of a lovely lady who I have become friends with through the wonder of mental health issues. Now, I know that sounds a bit flippant but if it wasn’t for me having a massive mental breakdown and thus being diagnosed with depression and anxiety we would never have met. Her name is Kerry and she runs the Cupcakes and Anxiety page on here, Facebook and Instagram (which constantly makes me drool because of the pictures she posts of the amazing cakes she bakes). She is also one of the founders (alongside the lovely Hannah) of the Anxiety Cafe here on the island and it was through this group I met her. Over the few years I have known Kerry I have already found her to be an inspiration to many (if it wasn’t for her gentle encouragement I may never have kept blogging) and a wonderfully genuine person. Passionate about mental health she has begun this simple but very effective campaign which is incredibly easy to get involved with.

All you need to do is grab a piece of paper.

Write the words ‘anxious & awesome’ on it.

Take a selfie holding the piece of paper up.

Upload the picture to social media using the hashtag #anxiousandawesome

It really is that easy and it’s all about showing the outside world that while we may have a mental illness we’re still awesome.

I’ve done it already.

You can do it too.

Uncomfortable

As I sit here at the wedding of one of our most wonderful friends I am reminded of how much I value my family and those close to me. My wife looks beautiful (she always does but she never believes me when I tell her that) and I’ve even made an effort and am wearing a jacket and smart trouser.

The wedding itself was a beautifully simple affair with enough people who care about our lovely circle.

There was no fuss, no big pomp and ceremony. Instead there was a room full of love and understanding. There was no seating plan for the tables, no speeches and it felt so relaxed.

This was then followed by an amazing BBQ and a mobile ice cream seller which just added to the calming atmosphere.

So why do I feel the need to withdraw myself from the festivities? Socially I am sat at the table listening to the conversation topics but mentally I am wanting to be at home. Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying the day and our friend looks truly stunning but I am screaming inside to be let out. I can’t explain the feeling properly but I don’t feel anxious, just uncomfortable.

I’ve tried my best to smile when I need to, join in conversation when I have to and be part of photograph but I don’t know how much more I can give.

I’m tired

I’m irritated about nothing in particular.

This will pass eventually

The only thing keeping me going right now is my wife and my choice of socks x

That’s Why I’m Easy (or not….)

Today has been a bit of a funny one.

I’m currently enjoying a week off work and so far I’ve spent my time doing absolutely nothing. Which may be a godsend to some people but to me, who has a bit of a thing about routine, it can make the day a bit difficult.

My normal daily routine would consist of getting up at 6am, breakfast, dressed and teeth brushed then out the door just after 7am. Get to work at about 7.40 and chill out before the day ahead which is also pretty structured.

This week though is different because the whole first part of the day doesn’t happen.

I’m still awake at the usual time but there’s no motivation to do anything. I get up and have breakfast but instead of getting everything ready for work I sit in front of the tv. I have even begun to watch a new series on Netflix and watched 3 episodes already (yeah it’s not exactly binge watching but it’s more than I’d usually do).

Today though came with a bit of a stumble (kind of like when you trip up but make it look like you meant it)

I woke up, listened to the radio going on, heard the rain outside and waited for my wife’s alarm to go off. When it did, she was up and off out to work for her usual time. I went down to have some breakfast but there was an unsettling feeling. No discernible reason for it but I just couldn’t settle at anything. I watched a bit more of ‘The Dark Crystal’ on Netflix but couldn’t even concentrate on that and gave up halfway through an episode. I started a new scribble drawing and got as far as a few lines and a central ‘shape’ to work around.

I decided I’d go for a walk into town and get some fresh air. I told my daughter I was popping to the daytime anxiety cafe I often go to. The walk would do me good I thought.

Well………..it kind of did but I still felt odd.

Walking in to the hall I looked around and saw a few familiar faces. The activity topic was making model dinosaurs and I just wasn’t feeling it. Normally I’ll give most crafty and creative things a try but I just didn’t want to today. I sat at the end of the table, sipping on my cup of tea, watching the group getting stuck in but I had no inclination to join in. I tried to make a little kind of creature with wire, corks and pipe cleaners but I got to a point where I looked at it and just thought “what the hell is that?”. I actually felt disappointed with myself at creating something which looked like nothing.

I got up and left everyone to it while saying a brief goodbye to a select few.

Why did I feel this way?

What triggered this response?

I have genuinely no idea but it had left me feeling a bit deflated for today so I’ve come home, I’ve put the radio on the telly and I’m just sat here in the living room listening to the music while tapping my feet along to the drum sections.

It’s amazing what a bit of Nirvana and Rammstein can do.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what I think of ‘The Dark Crystal’ the answer is I’m undecided just now. It looks stunning (it’s by the Jim Henson team, like the original film) but I still have such a soft spot for the film I don’t know what to make of it just now. I’m reserving judgement until I’ve watched the whole series.

Until the next time………

On the road again……….

It’s been quite a while since I felt the need to put pen to paper, or in this case finger to iPad.

So what’s changed?

I have begun to realise that I only need to do things for me. Not anyone else. Just me. The exception to this is obviously when I’m at work because if I didn’t do things for other people I’m pretty sure I’d be out of a job. Anyway, as usual I’ve sidetracked already.

As a family we recently spent a lovely week away in Cornwall at my mother-in-laws house (she was there too, we didn’t just break in). We had absolutely zero plans except for one day when the girls were going to The Minack theatre to watch a play and I was going for a walk along the coast path with my camera. This meant that we just woke up each day and decided what we wanted to do. In the evenings my daughter and I took our regular walk down to the beach, messed about on the rocks and then slowly wandered back up the hill to the flat. It was the most relaxed I have felt in a long time and to my surprise it has continued on our return.

I have also been fortunate enough to have some of my art on display in a local pop up gallery in town. The gallery is being run by Independent Arts who are a local charity that supports mental health and various other projects through creativity. They oversee the anxiety cafe I attend and they also run sessions in schools and care homes, plus much much more. My work is on display alongside work by some other very talented artists and I’m pleased that initial reactions to my (quite recognisable) style have been positive. I’ve got some new followers on Instagram and while I was sat in the gallery one Saturday I received some lovely comments. I haven’t sold anything, I haven’t had any requests for commission work but I genuinely do not care. Well, maybe that’s not the best choice of word. I genuinely do not mind if people don’t buy anything because as long as it makes someone smile for a second, or it sparks a memory or conversation then that is enough for me. I do my drawing for me. I choose what to paint, what to draw or what to make and I know that if I get carried away with the material benefits it could bring I will be doing it for the wrong reasons and the enjoyment and meaning behind every piece will be lost. It is a fantastic thrill when I do sell something or someone asks about a piece but it’s not everything.

Lastly I have gone back to running. I bought some new trainers (or tyres as I like to call them) and went out tonight for the first time in nearly 18 months.

Did I go fast? I have no idea and don’t care.

Did I walk some of it? Absolutely

Did I return in a big sweaty heap? Yep

Will I do it again? You can bet your ass I will

I made a conscious decision to delete my Strava account, ignore loading any runs up to my Garmin Connect account and just run. I think when I was running before I began to get super competitive. With myself!!! I was constantly chasing the best 5k time, the best 1 mile time, the quickest section on a Strava run and it made me lose focus. I have also unsubscribed from the virtual running websites I was on because they were just making me feel bad. I would see all these medals I wanted to earn and then look at how much they cost. It got to a point where I got so fed up with anything running related that I just thought “what’s the point?”. From this night on it is just about me and how I feel on the day will depend how I run. I might go quick, I might jog or I might walk most of it but the important thing is that it will be MY decision and I will only have to think about where I want to go.

I’ve missed the freedom that running gave me and, apart from the obvious health benefits, it gave me a sense of calm. I know that might sound strange to think being tired, sweaty and achy can be good for the soul but trust me, it is.

Mentally, I feel a lot better equipped to deal with events as they arise and I’m getting better at recognising the signs of a panic attack looming and taking myself away from the situation. I’m gently pushing my anxiety limits and beginning to feel more comfortable with myself in some situations. I’m still conscious of social gatherings and large crowds of people but I’m working on it………….

Much love to you all and thank you for sticking with my little blog. It may not seem much but this little outlet has been instrumental in my ongoing recovery and although I don’t write as much as I used to, I know that whenever I feel the need to, it’ll be here waiting for me to offload my thoughts.

Let’s Get Readyyyyyyyyy Tooooo Rumble……..

Before I start I must put forward a disclaimer that this blog is NOT about the glistening pop career of PJ & Duncan (or Ant & Dec as they’re now called).

Although it was actually quite a good career.

Tonight’s blog is about the battle between good and evil.

In the blue corner we have me. 40 plus years old and ‘x’ amount in weight.

In the red corner we have, weighing in at 10 tonnes, my self esteem.

Life in general at the moment is treating me ok. I’m getting used to my new job role and learning new things nearly every day. The thing that has brought about todays little piece of thinking is my place in society.

I’m not about to get all deep meaningful, instead I’m just trying to find a place where I ‘fit’.

This evening I went to a small art exhibition being held at a local coffee shop. The coffee shop is an awesome little place that is geared around comic books and alternative culture. The artwork on display was incredible and ranged from customised dolls, comic book fan art, canvasses, stickers and prints. I was really excited about going as I love looking at art, but I had also promised to introduce myself to one of the artists there who follows my work on Instagram (he goes by the name of ‘idolmind’ and his work his very cool). Anyway, I turned up and started looking round the works on display. The coffee shop is quite small so it was a little difficult not to bump into people but I began to feel uneasy.

I found the artist I had gone to see and introduced myself. He is an amazing guy and I found it quite easy to talk to him. We got chatting about each other’s work and what inspires us. Mental health came up into conversation and how it helps me to focus. He introduced me to his lovely wife and I showed her some photos of my work on my phone. She was highly complimentary and I could feel my self confidence was lifting as I was talking to them both. I even managed to get a possible invite to a future event if this one tonight proves to be popular. There was also talk of me and Idolmind (he does have a proper name but I don’t feel it right for me to give that out here) meeting up sometime to maybe have a chat about an art collaboration of some kind. Awesome!!

And then I had another look around.

It was at this point I began to feel like I was being watched. Being judged. Being talked about.

“What is he doing here?”

“He doesn’t belong here”

Why is he looking at that?

Why is he on his own?

Has he no friends?

Of course no one was ever actually thinking that or saying it. All of the questions that were going through my mind began to make me question my place in this. I started to think that I didn’t belong in the same room as these people. That I wasn’t good enough to talk to any of them. I had managed to turn a perfectly great evening into a disaster (in my head) all by myself by not believing in my own abilities. I started listening to my head and decided to leave. I made my excuses, said goodbye to my new found artist buddy and walked home quite despondent.

The walk home felt like it went on forever and I was chewing over the emotions of the evening all the time. I know I’m a good artist and I’m good at what I do. I know that others appreciate what I do.

So why don’t I believe myself?

I don’t feel I fit into the ‘traditional’ art scene of landscapes, seascapes and portraits. I don’t see myself as an alternative artist. I’m not bothered if I have thousands of ‘followers’ or ‘likes’ anymore because my drawing is my escape but it’s hard sometimes not to feel like I’m currently last in a competition.

So where does that leave me?

As soon as I work that bit out I’ll let you know.

I’m off to chill out, trawl through eBay for stuff I don’t need and then maybe have an early(ish) night.

Tomorrow is a new day so I will leave this one behind and wake up with a fresh head on. Well, as fresh as it can be at 6 o’clock in the morning.

Update v.1

As it’s been a little while since I last wrote a blog I thought I’d just drop by and give you all a little update on how life is treating me.

Are you ready?

For the first time in a looooooong time I’m beginning to feel settled again. The biggest change in life has been a change of job role at work. I have moved out of the cafe and upstairs in to the office. I miss the cafe team hugely and the fun we had (plus, working with a mostly female team, some of the crazy stories I heard) but this move really has been my lifeline. To some people it may sound quite geeky and boring but to me, I love it!

My new role is all centred around processes in store. Cash processes, maintenance processes and more. I’m learning how to check a lot of auditable paperwork (cross the i’s and dot the t’s 😉), balance cash systems, keep on top of computer system updates and learn about theft and loss. Like I said before, geeky and boring but incredibly interesting to me. It’s all numbers and looking for irregularities whilst keeping a sense of routine and order. And for someone like me (with anxiety in case you didn’t know already) it is absolutely perfect. I had a bit of a tentative start because I now start work at 8am so my morning wake up routine had to brought forward but in a weird way it’s been easier because of my teenage daughter. She leaves the house just after 7am to get the bus for school so I get up when she does, have breakfast, make packed lunches and then we leave together. We walk so far together then she carries on to get the bus and I walk the rest of the way to work. It’s a little thing but it starts the day with a lovely positive.

At the other end of my shift I now finish at 4pm and this has meant that we have more family time in the evenings. By family time I really mean that the 3 of us are in the same house doing our own things but we’re together. We can share daft jokes, show each other silly pictures we’ve found on the internet and spend longer doing it. I can also now watch my daughter at her swimming training again and encourage her from poolside (while eating crisps and chocolate like the true role model I am).

A simple change in job role has, in effect, given me a life again.

Another thing I have done (work related again) is that I attended a training session to be a digital champion (not as fancy as it sounds).

On the big island.

On my own.

I really surprised myself because when my store manager mentioned it to me I actually said ‘yes’ immediately. I didn’t think about it and then talk myself out of it, I just said yes. Once I knew the date / time of the training I set about working out bus and ferry times to get me to the big island in enough time for me to then take a steady walk to the store where the session was being held. I then worked out the time I would need to leave the house to walk into town, so that I was there in plenty of time to wait for the bus. As long as I was prepared I’d be ok. And I was. The ferry crossing was calm and I picked a seat by the window so I could see exactly where we were at all times.

I arrived at the store right on time, signed in to get my little visitor badge and went up the training session. It was really interesting and is all about a new app that we will be using to help make things easier by having all sorts of communication in one place. I won’t bore you all with the details but I came away from the day feeling pretty good about it. I had a steady walk back to the ferry and then made my way home. I was pretty knackered by then but at the same time I was so proud of myself for having made it through the day.

Was I anxious? Of course.

Did I remember the little tricks to help me settle? Yep.

Did they work? Yes.

Did I have a massive grin on my face when I got home. Definitely.

Anyway, stay tuned for the next exciting (possibly……..or not, depending on your viewpoint) instalment.

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