Train your brain

Coming out the other end of a tunnel travelling across many years, I’ve passed by many thinking patterns that have stopped me in my tracks, and many that kept me on route. I believe that working towards changing my brains behaviour has been the breakthrough to the outside world and far better than changing my own, because the problem wasn’t me, it’s my brain. I won’t lie, I still have my bad days and brain slips up… Everyone does. But wow are they shorter and less often.

The first thing I tried to train my brain to do is to recognise my Depression and I as separate entities,  different people. Thinking of my Depression as me; the way i behaved when I was low, believe it was a part of my character which couldn’t be changed and questioning “why am I like this” brought me to places where I didn’t think I could help myself . I thought the way I was feeling was who I am and who I will always be. I tried to envision my Depression more like a different person, someone who would talk to me and tell me horrible things that I’d believe… A real dickhead. But that they would come and go. I started to think, I don’t believe every word that others tell me so why am I believing my Depression? Everything  it makes me think, I question it and think, where is the evidence? If I was on a jury, is there enough evidence to decide on a guilty verdict? (definitely been watching too many crime documentaries, but it works for me) When we see a case in court, it is innocent until proven guilty. Defendants aren’t labelled a murderer, until sufficient evidence is presented, yet we are so quick to label ourselves things before we’ve even considered this. I am a different person when I am down, to when I am okay. Just as we are socialised to act differently with each social group, the way I act with Depression is different. Neither lasts forever, but seeing the difference and knowing the real me, motivates me through the harder times.

When I began brain training, I used various apps, working them into my daily routine for months until they became habit. From time to time, I still use them but the thinking that they encouraged have now became (most of the time) a brain routine. Here’s a list of the apps I used and how they help (they are all free and many are recommended by the NHS!);

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  1. Headspace: is a guided meditation app. The app allows you to do quick 2-3 minute meditations and longer 5-10 minute meditations. Either way, I found them really easy to fit in every morning and a nice start to the day. If I had time, some days I would use the app in the morning and evening, but without fail every day. The meditations guide you to thoughts pass and to avoid judging them, which as a clinger to mine this really helped. It also showed me that often  the same thoughts pop-up, in which by the end I was able to just recognise them, just noting “Oh look there’s that one again, seen that a million times before”. As quite an emotional person, I tend to be rather reactive when I feel hurt or betrayed or let down. Over the Summer that I was using Headspace, I came across many things that I would normally react to, but instead I took a calm and less-caring approach to. Although I didn’t manage to keep this up the entire Summer and did react to 1 or 2 things, I managed to keep my cool 80% of the time, which I’m pretty surprised and impressed by. I would advise though that you don’t try app this unless you believe that it will bring you some good, as I have tried this many times in the past and never believed it would work so never really tried with it.moodpath
  2. Moodpath: Moodpath is an app that allows you to track your moods. This helped me to see so many patterns I never realised before which helped me to see many of my downs were either triggered by my lifestyle habits such as uni drinking benders and to learn things that helped me to bring it back up again such as eating well, going to the gym and just generally taking care of msyelf. It also visually showed me that every time my mood decreased, it would always eventually improve again. Using this app every day, good and bad showed me the progress I was making and gradually that putting into place what I was learning shortened and led to less downs. The app also asks questions to evaluate the level of your depression, which can be shown to doctors if you find it difficult to describe how you’re feeling to them without sugar coating.
  3. Unknown: This isn’t the app name as unfortunately I cannot remember or find the app anymore. However, the purpose I used the app for is easy to do with just a note book. An element involved every day writing one thing you’ve achieved that day, one thing you’re grateful for and one thing you’re looking forward to. Even following an awful day, each night I would force myself to do this task. Some nights took a little more searching to complete this, but I managed to find something every time. Keeping track of these as well is a lovely way to look back at for inspiration for darker days, knowing you’ve managed to find these things in the dark before.

Alas, a short list, but for good reason. I found too many apps meant I didn’t stick to them. Getting into a routine of doing these at the same time each day will eventually make them equal to brushing your teeth when you wake up.

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Noting and Noticing

This morning I stood on my patio, feeling the sun shining and felt complete content and happiness. I had a flashback to this time last year, stood in the exact same place, feeling the exact same sensations of the sun but far from the same feelings. Even though I’m in the same place,  the journey I’ve been on before returning has changed a lot of things.

I think it’s important to stop looking at past memories as negative and instead take note of how far you’ve come since. Taking notes is actually a huge help for me, whether it’s mentally or pen and paper. I found that taking notes of actual memories, as suggested, to look back at when I’m down never helped because most of those don’t stay positive forever. The feeling of accomplishment does. When at a low, it’s easy to feel like this is going to be your life, you and the way you feel forever. I believed my Depression would be an up hill battle for the entirety of my life. I was wrong, and if I could have seen where I am now, mentally, I would have known that or even if I just looked back to the millions of times I’ve overcome it before. So often, when I have feelings of accomplishment I will write down how I feel and a reminder to myself that this feeling will eventually come again, basically a past pep-talk to myself. I used to keep a diary of this, so whenever I was struggling I could flick through, see my journey and that every down is followed by an up. Although I haven’t felt the need to look back at this in a long while, I keep it updated for the days I do.

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A lovely dated mugshot to jazz it up

A year today ish marks my long awaited decision to finally put my mental well-being first and it wasn’t easy, but the hard work has made my life a hell of a lot less hard work. From feeling like my Depression controlled my life and would always be there, to forgetting it even exists the majority of the time and feeling in control once again, IT IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE, just keep going. Bask in those moments of accomplishment and get the most out of them for the next days, months or even years, because they don’t come every day.

 

You’re the Fairest of All

Throughout Teen-hood, I’ve battled with my body image. Over the years I’ve been blonde, dieted to the point where food was no longer enjoyable, considered cosmetic surgery and overall just wanted to be in someone else’s body. We’re told, “That’s just what being a teenager is all about”, But for a lot of us, this doesn’t just end when you hit the big 18, or 19 or even 20. After spending years being unable to see what others saw in me, or didn’t see as much as I did, I  was tired of staring into a reflection of hatred and took a hard look as to whether it was really the mirror speaking to me, or a delusion of my own brain. If the wicked witch in Snow White can take a look at her own reflection and hear “You’re the fairest of all”, then why can’t I?

I wanted to share 5 things that helped me to either be less concerned with my body image or find some love for it (who know’s which it is);

The Enemy: The Mirror

We’re all guilty of standing in front of a mirror, grabbing at our fat and analysing all our imperfections. I found that avoiding the mirror a little more often really helped me to stop pointing these out to myself. Think about this; you have a little bit of chocolate around your mouth, it’s not probably noticeable unless someone is up close to you. You spend the whole afternoon unaware of this, until you get home, look in the mirror and realise. This has happened to us all. You may have felt a bit silly and embarrassed once you got home and noticed, but the entire day you were not affected by the chocolate smudge around your mouth, and not that many people notice enough to tell you either! As long as I’m not aware of what I’m meant to look like compared to what I do everyday, I find it easier to get along with what I have. So instead of spending most my mourning in front of the mirror, I don’t look at my body till I am already dressed and soon to be out the door. Most of the time, the outside world is only going to see what you look like on the outside, not underneath.

Cooking

I know doctors and qualified psychologists go on and on about the benefit of eating healthily on your mental health, but from my experience I found it was actually primarily me cooking my food myself. It allows me to see what goes into each dish, prevents me calorie counting because there is no printed nutritional values on a box and taught me to enjoy food again. It may not taste amazing every time, but the hard work of cooking the meal makes the eating 10x more enjoyable, as well as making me feel like I’m eating better as it’s not processed or frozen. This has made a big difference from someone who used to take 2 hours to shop, checking all nutritional values, then deciding the carbs and fat was too high and returning the item back to it’s shelf. The less I count the calories and analyse the food I’m eating, the less concerned I seem to be about my weight. I’ve now not dieted for a year and feel skinnier than I did, even though I’m not.

Social Media

Social media CAN be great, but for body image it’s considered a bit of a burden. When you post a photo on Instagram, post it because YOU like it, not for others to like. I know this isn’t as easy as said, but even turning off your phone after you’ve posted for a while and doing something else will reduce concern over those numbers of likes. I also find the more open I am on social media, the more comfortable I feel to post whatever and confident about it. The second rule I have is who I follow. The majority of the accounts I follow are of people I know, most of them met. I try to avoid following influences and celebs because I will compare myself to their beautiful selfies and amazing bodies and it does nothing to help with my own self confidence. I have no idea of these peoples private lives and will never see the full picture. Many of them I will never see what they look like when they wake up in the morning, or with the same funds as I have for beauty products. Many of them I will never understand how much of their life they sacrifice to try and look like that, what and when they eat and how often they’re at the gym. I remind myself that even though I may want to look like that, I’m not prepared or able to hold they lifestyle they do for it. The few I do follow for work purposes, the minute I start to feel like I’m comparing myself and ugly and all these things, I unfollow.

Getting up

I’ve noticed that my self-esteem is at it’s worst when I have consecutive days that I don’t get properly dressed or put some makeup on or brush my hair. It’s as if my brain starts to believe that I always look as I do when I wake up in the morning, when I haven’t brushed or washed my hair, covered my spots or put myself in something other than a dressing gown. I still have my lazy days, but I will always get myself up every morning to brush my hair and get into some sort of comfy clothes, with a little touch of concealer if I’m feeling unattractive. This is even if I’m not leaving the house, getting dressed and doing my makeup or hair has become something I do for myself and not others.

Realism

Of course, it’s typical that the majority of the time the way we wish we looked is as far from ourselves as we could get. But doesn’t that just say something in itself that this is all our brain malfunctioning? There’s an awful lot of attributes to the human body, for every single person to find every single one of yours unattractive is very unlikely. But one thing I do understand now and tell myself, is that I might as well be happy with how I am. I still slightly wish i could be stick thin and have skinny thighs, but my body can physically not reach that goal, no matter how much I diet, I was not built like that. And that is something I’ve come to accept and has helped me be happier about my build. I also remind myself that there are people out there looking like you want to look, wanting your look.

“If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else” – RuPaul

New Years Revolution

I thought 2018 was a war, one of the most difficult wars I’ve fought. I’ve come to realise that 2018 was not this but a revolution, a revolution against myself and a fight for freedom from depression… I am a strong believer that you only really learn from the most desperate and difficult times. This year has proved that. Instead of looking back typically thinking, “This has been the worst year EVER” I see this year as the best year of my life.

I started the year in a bad place, and struggled to pick myself up until I realised I didn’t have a choice. I had to do this for me, by myself. I couldn’t be more grateful for the storm that hit, because without this I never would have achieved all I have within myself and turned this year around. When I think back to the start of this year, and consider where I am now I am the proudest I have ever been. I am the best version of me that has ever been and the happiest I have been for 6 years, and no one is responsible for that other than myself. I never ever believed this was possible, but I made it possible.

However, I know that I cannot become complacent and this is not the end, but it’s given me a taste of what I can achieve and hope, that I can pull myself out of anything and that not everyday has to be a struggle. What’s the point in struggling if you don’t take something from it?

“New year, new me”? Not this year, I’m happy with the me I’m ending 2018 with thanks!

Step 5: Through the Looking Glass

Today as I looked on my Facebook memories, a picture of my ex boyfriend and I came up, looking all cute and happy. It’s easy to feel lonely and sad when you see that, but strangely I didn’t. As I looked into the picture, I remembered everything that was going on inside my head at that time. 17 year old me, in my boyfriends arms, happy and in love. But the picture doesn’t tell the true story. Happy and in love are not two words that go together. Depression had a heavy hold over me and I hated myself. I remember thinking I was ugly and fat and hated my body more than anyone else could. I suppose that’s something we do sometimes, if we hate ourselves more than others, then nothing they say or do will get to us. We already believe it. This is in theory, the theory of our depressed minds. Because in reality, what people think and say will always get to us. But depression isn’t based on reality, completely the opposite really. I remember my broken-record boyfriend telling me over and over, “You’re beautiful, you’re not fat or ugly”. “You’re my boyfriend, you have to say that” I’d respond, my mind thinking of any possible reason to not believe him. As hard as he tried, what I’ve realised today is that it’s only me that can change my perception of myself. When I look back at that image now, I see a young, slim and beautiful girl that I wish she’d just believe in herself and love herself as much as the boy in the picture does and I just can’t quite get my head around how I had those perceptions of myself at the time. It reminds me of how far I’ve come and how accepting of myself I am. Whenever I feel awful about myself, it is a reflection interfered with by my Depression, not a true image.

My Ex Boyfriend, all the time: “You’re so beautiful, I just wish you’d see it”

Dear fellow uni students: From one with Depression.

Dear fellow uni students,

It’s difficult, university. But studying university with a honours degree in Depression can seem mere impossible at times. We know it’s hard to understand and you have a million other #uniproblems, but here’s 10 things we would like you to know;

  1. Just because you don’t see us crying, it doesn’t mean were not struggling. As open as I have become about how I’m feeling, it doesn’t mean that I tell people every time I feel down about something (because sometimes we just don’t want to talk about it).
  2. Just because our attendance is low and we don’t get out of bed much, it doesn’t mean were lazy. Trust me, I want to get out of bed and be in every lecture! Especially considering the amount were paying for them. But it often feels as if were running on empty and sometimes there is nothing we can do to get ourselves out of bed.
  3. We don’t miss those 9am’s just because we want a lay in. I set myself 7 alarms, next to me, and even my house mates wake up to them. My body however, thinks it needs to sleep all day and isn’t even disturbed my the typical iPhone alarm sounds going off for hours.
  4. Just because we seem happy, it doesn’t mean were not having to fight everyday for it. Depression doesn’t go away, we can get better at coping, but it’s still there. We have to fight it to get up in the morning, to get into uni, to do our coursework, our washing up… Almost everything to a degree.
  5. The smallest thing can make the biggest difference. Trying to fight past the mouldy washing up to put the kettle on in the morning is triggering, TO ANYONE.
  6. For some of us, we didn’t believe university was possible for us. Depression can really mess up your education. Getting into uni can be a struggle after it hitting your A Levels like a wrecking ball, let alone the question of if you can manage the student stress of living with others, money and heaps of coursework, away from home, when it’s been a huge difficulty in the past.
  7. Our achievements are different. Making it through the first year of uni is an achievement, making it to one day of lectures a week and submitting coursework on time are victories in our eyes, no matter what mark we get.
  8. Even if you, or someone close to you suffers from Depression, it doesn’t mean you understand the extent of ours. Everyone suffers different extremities and types of Depression, we know it’s impossible for you to understand sometimes.
  9. We are always trying, even when we seem like were not. We have to, because the fall can be pretty hard otherwise.
  10. We don’t want you to tread on your toes around us. But we do want you to consider and be respectful of the everyday struggles we face, that you probably wouldn’t even think about.

From,

Uni students with Depression

P.s, We appreciate all the help you give us an awful lot.

The Ship that Sailed to Bournemouth

So, I’m back, still going on my journey of ups and down, still regularly battling against my own brain but now in a new place with a new enemy. University. If you’re in the same boat or considering sailing the same ship, let me give you an insight. Never has an experience given me such an array of rollercoaster emotions. One day I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, the next I can’t even drag myself out of bed for a lecture. That sounds like I’ve been drinking the night before a 9am right? Nope, way too poor to go out with my terrible “budgeting” techniques (due to an addiction for stereotypical Uni student fairy lights in my room) and I don’t even have a single 9am. Same with my flat mates, absolutely love them and I’m very lucky to be matched with randomers who are as weird and loud as me. Even if they do judge most of my choices in food. Some days though when I wake up, head to the kitchen to have breakfast at 1pm and find playing cards everywhere, an Eiffel tower of washing up and a floor that feels as if you’re a fly stuck on fly paper… Those days are low days. But don’t let that put you off Uni if you’re a clean person, eventually you all get together when it gets too bad and basically re-enact an episode of DIY SOS on the kitchen.

Since being at University and living very closely with 5 people, I’ve discovered new interests to escape just for a little while until one of the boy’s bursts into my room asking for a face mask. One of these, and if you haven’t experienced this yet I’m sure you will soon, is Gordon Ramsey. Yes, Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen are my saviours. Screw the tv licence, you’ll find plenty of episodes on Youtube and Netflix that do not disappoint. It could be something to do with watching an angry man shout and swear a lot, I don’t even know but it works. Secondly, board games. I am the most competitive person ever and possibly the biggest loser, but the journey before I lose is enjoyable unless it’s complicated and takes 300 times to explain to everyone because they’re not listening. Our flat plays so many, ones I’ve not even played before and it’s got to the point now where we’ve began betting on them. Loser usually must buy something for the flat, so you could call it positive gambling I suppose? If that exists.

In all honesty, before coming to uni I saw it as a place to go and grow up. Since being at uni, I’ve realised and noticed that everyone tends to revert to childhood comforts and activities. Prior to this experience I had not played a board game, owned fairy lights, played on the Wii or eaten spaghetti hoops in years. I love it. Despite how scared of change, new people and new faces I was, shaking on the journey up to Bournemouth my boyfriend was right to force me into that car and I wouldn’t change him winning that argument for anything.

After returning home from a family and friends filled Christmas and with exams looming, I’m ready to take on a whole new term of this chaotic charm. With plans to be cleaner, eat better and budget better for the new year and term, I’m sure it will be the same as the last just with new memories and friends.

“Go home Annie” – My Boyfriends housemate, 2018 (when I’m being silly about going back to uni).