Colour me running on empty

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On the weekend, after successfully celebrating the third birthday of the one fanged monkey, we got in the car to drive home. The weather was amazing and the tiny little road along the Waterfront was packed with G-Town locals chasing the sun. The Baker and I were high-fiving ourselves for getting through the third of four parties in as many weeks.

Then we ran out of petrol.

Some choice words were used here. Mainly by the Baker as there were several pairs of young eyes staring at us from the back seats. Some less than choice words were used by me, as in my defence I blurted that I hate filling up the car with petrol. This didn’t go down so well with the Baker or the two cars we blocked in on the side of the road. I said “I’m doing the best I can” a lot too.

But in reality, that tank of petrol is a bit like my head right now. I am running on empty. I am exhausted, shattered and spent.

My emotional tank is also empty. It has no fuel left it either.

I like this choice of words for a couple of reasons: a) it is not a swear word which is highly unusual in my day to day vocab and b) it helps me understand why I can’t give myself to everyone. Sometimes I can only just give myself to myself.

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Lately I feel like I have used every single drop of my own emotional tank to process my own thoughts that I can’t offer as much empathy, support and love to those around me. My emotional tank is a bit like one of these buckets, only it is not getting filled. I am doing a lot of stuff for a lot of people but in trying to fill my bucket, I think I emptied my emotional tank. Perhaps helping everyone else is my defence mechanism. My way of coping. That is okay for now, but it is exhausting at the same time. It is a dark and tough place to be. This depleted emotional tank means that I need to take time out.

In a big way.

And during this current stage of tiredness, I am learning a hard lesson in life. It is one that I have talked about so many times. It is something that I thought I had down pat.

That is, the ability to say no

It turns out that this is a difficult skill to perfect. People with anxiety are pleasers and often at their own expense. What a bummer that is. But since my recent panic attack plus another one this past weekend along with many teary wobbles, sleepless nights and general malaise, I am under strict instructions to say no.

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Right now, this seems nearly impossible. There is a big birthday of mine coming up this weekend so I want to say yes to all the happy and fuck off to all the worry. Let me sleep brilliantly this week so I can celebrate the beauty of turning 40 without all the other bullshit.

There is the end of the school term, the school concert, some surgery for the one fanged monkey and then school holidays. But a lack of routine and fingers crossed, a blind eye to the mess should help me to slow down. To calm down.

So, are you ready to join in? Want to say no with me? I am going to be saying no, no, no, just like Amy Winehouse. I am hoping it becomes as addictive as saying yes can be for my anxious head.

I wonder what colour no is.

Perhaps it is blue – calm + mindful because that is where my head will be when I empty it of all the noise and refuel that emotional tank. Or perhaps it is red – confidence + bravado because I will need this to be comfortable with saying no. And for not feeling any guilt about saying no. Because there is no point in saying no if you are going to feel guilty about it.

Colour me with a clear head, a clear schedule and some much needed down time. Colour me saying no.

 

 

Colour me a long black

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I freakin’ love coffee.

the smell : the ritual : the take away container : the five minutes of peace in a cup if I am by myself : the three minutes of happiness if I am balancing it with a limb shooting toddler : the beans : the grinder : the happy barista : the instagram : the need for it : the love

I even like searching for coffee. I will drive kilometres out of the way for my daily grind.

I freakin’ love the stuff. Did I mention that I freakin’ love the stuff?

The problem is that the stuff doesn’t always love me. In fact, right now it is really, really not liking me. Do you know how heart breaking this is? I feel like I have been dumped by a cup of joe.

You see, coffee loves anxiety.

the racing heart : the beating chest : the rush : the adrenaline : the palpitations : the high : the desire : the need to get a fix

For someone like me, this is a tough combination.

In my darkest days, I restricted myself to one cup. I only ever drank it mid morning as I remember going into panic whilst drinking it at 8am with my hand waving, emotion flailing panicked self trying to get out the door for the school run. But then I got stronger again, my resilience was awesome and my colourful armour of calm was protecting me in every way.

So I let an extra coffee a day in. My beautiful long black in the morning became a repeat treat a few hours later. And from there I went happily along in my daily ritual. Blessed in the socialisation of coffee and all that it brings.

Then I panicked.

Panic means that my system is racy, my nerves are jittery and the likelihood of me panicking again is quite real. There is far too much adrenaline going on at the moment. All the time in fact. And because the thought, even the inkling, that I may panic again is one of the worst, most terrifying feelings that I have possibly known then I need make a change.

So my cup of joe is a solo adventure once more. Just the one. I can’t deal with the headache of giving it up all together so I will manage with my just one.

My cup is half full. I’d like two full cups but I’ll let that slide. I will see the positive in this small daily change. I will reap the benefits eventually. My shaky system will calm and I will calm as well.

But you, you gorgeous cup of joe, I will love you and leave you for now. It is me not you. I need to change and you can’t come with me.

Colour me calm, please.

Please colour me blue.

Calm + mindful I will be once more.

Colour me a blogger

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I am going to call myself a blogger.

You may laugh at this for one of two reasons. The first would be because as you are reading this er, blog it is easy to presume I am already a blogger. Secondly, if you’ve been watching my over active Instagram feed, you’ll know that I’ve just attended the latest Problogger conference on the Gold Coast.

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The thing is, when you start a blog, you do so in the comfort of your front room with an iMac and a big dream. Then someone other than your mum begins to read it and you write some more. Soon you get messages of encouragement and support and the feeling that people out there enjoy what you are doing. So you keep on keeping on.

Life gets in the way and you don’t post so regularly for a bit. Or for a (long) while. Then your calendar clears and you post like a mofo. But you’ll never be as organised as The Organised Housewife despite being a housewife yourself. So many blog posts ready to hit publish on? {Insert that emoji with the wide eyes here. Then the one with the clapping hands.} Colour me impressed.

But before long your social media pages like up like the Griswald’s house on Christmas vacation. So you invest in yourself a little and click ‘proceed’ to head to the Gold Coast for the annual festival of the blog world known as #pbevent

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But anxiety and a conference of 500+ peeps is an intimidating experience, especially at breakfast on day one when you cannot see straight into the eyes of a single person you know. And as you organise your life away from the small people, you send yourself into a tailspin that equals a panic attack because you know, packing + scheduling + organising + parenting can manifest into a shitty adrenaline spike.

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But I don’t feel bad about leaving the kids because life with them is grand but a few days away from them is priceless. I need to take a moment to break from the noise and the constancy of demands and routine and exhaustion. Even if it is just for a chance to wear white jeans and party like it’s 1999, which didn’t happen because I was too freaking tired.

I was super relieved to see Emma Stirling invite me into a taxi at the airport where I met Carly Findlay and her contagious zest for life. Then I got to squeeze the real life persona that is Vanessa from Style and Shenanigans and hang with the divine Kiralee from Escape with Kids – thank you for being my wingmen!

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Subsequent conversations over the next two days tell stories of people ordering room service to avoid that giant buffet of bloggers at breakfast altogether. It doesn’t stop me making a tit of myself in front of Mrs Woog in an altogether dreadful attempt to stay cool when all I really wanted to do was kiss her and thank her for her honesty. I went to breakfast at 7am on day two to eat happily alone.

Then I started to network, which didn’t come easily especially when I tell people I blog about anxiety until nearly everyone I meet says, “Can I have your card? I have anxiety too.” I high five myself for having a business card even if it does have my mobile number on it instead of my social media links.

One person I met looked me straight in the eye and thanked me for being so honest in my writing and that a particular post resonated with them. Someone else told me they loved my blog. And my shoes. My shoes get so much attention I wondered if they needed their own hashtag and I love that there’s a room full of people who completely get why they would!

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I listened to a plethora of inspiring speakers and soaked up more knowledge than I can process. I am exhausted by the potential – my potential – and as I filled pages of my notebook with ideas and action and collaborations I came to the realisation that I.AM.A.BLOGGER.

Holy Shit! When did that happen?

It happened because I made it happen. It happened because in my darkest most awful days I chose to write instead of open a bottle of wine. I wrote openly and honestly because it is the only way I know how to. I wrote regularly enough for people to want to read and listen and engage. I created this because I wanted this. And THIS is a freakin’ awesome feeling.

I took my diary of grey and translated it into something legible. Beautiful people wanted to read it : resonate with it : share it : comment on it : and give a shit about me when I panicked. And how during Problogger I fell in love with the Little Moments App and a little bit with myself too.

Now I can see the potential of my words even if I still don’t fully understand SEO and plugins and a whole lot of other bloggy terminology that will see me keep the L-plates on for a bit longer. That I can also see the potential of Colour me Anna becoming a hub of wellness and calm and how I can make a living without compromising myself or the personality I have created.

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I am proud of myself for making it to the Gold Coast. It was a seriously big deal to get there. I wobbled a few times along the way. I let some people overwhelm me when they were probably feeling overwhelmed themselves. I took a breather when I needed it. I ran on Friday morning looking for endorphins to steady me. I laughed out loud, I adored the interaction and I am patting myself on the back.

I should never have doubted myself.

I should have channelled red like only I know how – confidence + bravado.

I should have drawn on blue – calm + mindful – when it got overwhelming.

In the end, I colour myself yellow – happiness + optimism – because hell yeah, I can.

 

Colour me breathing

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Over the past two days I have been over analysing everything.

Why did I have a panic attack again? What did I do in the lead up to it that caused it to happen? How could I have changed things to avoid it? What did I do wrong? How come this happened to me again?

Who? What? When? Where? How?

Gah, if there were an Olympic sport of over analysing then I am Usain Bolt. Nah, I am Flo-Jo in all her manicured glory. Because that 80s wonderwoman showed us how awesome super long nails and running fast could be. I am going to pretend there were no drugs because I am staying in my happy little bubble right now.

But this morning I burst into tears in front of the coffee machine. The kids also burst into tears except the one fanged monkey who said, “Wotwongmum.” High fives buddy.

So I decided to stop over analysing because it just is.

IT. JUST. IS.

The one thing I know I have forgotten to do lately is breathe. Long, slow, deep breaths. Mindful, conscious breathing. Taking a moment to realise this has immediately made me feel better. Knowing that if I continue to breathe then I will be okay.

So today I will take in the neighbours’ blossoming magnolia, the sunshine, cuddles from my family and a tremendous sense of love that everyone here has given me. If there is strength in numbers then all of your support here has made me feel confident again. Because nothing knocks the wind out of your sails like panic.

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I think I just forgot to breathe.

Colour me blue – calm + mindful. Bathe me in blue. Allow me to breathe in the blue and out the grey.

 

Colour me a new day

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Tonight I had a panic attack in a restaurant with the kids and the Baker. I’m not really sure how it happened. What a bitch she is, that anxiety, to visit me unannounced. Those chest tightening, breath stealing, heart racing, motion freezing feelings that had remained aloof for over twelve months crashed my peace party. My months of calm, that I kept congratulating myself on, high fiving, back slapping, thanking my lucky stars, go back to square one as I reset the non panic clock again. What an all together fucking shitouse wave of super crappy emotions.

Fuck you anxiety and your crippling ways.

Fuck you anxiety and your raining on my parade.

Fuck you anxiety for just being.

I am angry and disappointed and shocked and edgy that you got through my amazing barrier of calm. How dare you break through my wall of mindfulness. My heart is brimming with love and kindness so don’t you try and fit in worry too.

But most of all anxiety, you are not welcome. The busyness of my life may slow for a bit. The fragility of my mind may take a bit longer to repair. And the unwinding of my edginess will be fuelled by my determination. You will not beat me.

Back to basics it is. Simple food, mindfulness, exercise and love. Writing is helping me right now, which is lucky as I’d quite like to sit in the wine cupboard for a while. And then there’s the Baker who has taken charge of the kids’ bedtime and sent me to my room. I hope I sleep tonight for it will be doubly shit if I can’t.

I know there is a silver lining here somewhere. Maybe there’s a sign telling me to slow down, stop and listen. Take charge, restock, all the cliches. Did I miss it? What a fucker this sign came at all. But it is here, and I will find out why. I will. I must. I can.

Hello grey – moody and just not feeling right. It’s been a while since you visited me. I’m not happy to see you. I beat you quickly tonight and came out of my panic much quicker than my old self would have ever been able to. I should be proud of that if I wasn’t so exhausted. No, I am proud of that even if I am shocked.

Tomorrow is a new day.

 

Colour me doing the best I can

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I started writing this post a few days back before I had my tantrum that saw me quit parenting for a night and fall asleep at 6.15pm. Those who follow my Facebook posts clearly resonated with my mummy meltdown.

But back on Tuesday, I so was frustrated with myself that I couldn’t get my words out. I sat at my computer trying to write both a column and a blog post and approximately four coherent words fell onto the page. Even less fell out of my mouth. In hindsight (oh, that value is priceless), it was because I was exhaustimipated.

It has, without a doubt, been a massive week and weekend. Two birthdays then two birthday parties. We do a party every second year but it appears that they are getting bigger then Ben Hur. I was super organised because that is how I roll. I was very calm all weekend which also surprised me.

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During the busyness that is a birthday extravaganza, my reaction to some stupidity that seemed super important to a newly nine year old was blurted out as, “I am doing the best I can.”

Wash, rinse, repeat after me.

I AM DOING THE BEST I CAN.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that the kids would be very accepting of this as a satisfactory answer. And to be quite honest, I was really comfortable saying it and a little bit proud. Nay, a lot proud.

The kids spent the week in a spectacularly impressive “want, want, want” mentality as they were inundated with birthday excitement. Although I wanted to shout that theirs were simply first world problems, I refrained and answered their constant (and often unreasonable) demands with, “I am doing the best I can.” Mostly they shrugged their shoulders and walked away. They were either happy with my answer or knew that they’d pushed that boundary. And most of the time when these words left my lips, I did not shout. All remained calm and coordinated.

The one thing I do know is that my ‘best I can’ is really actually quite good. I don’t mean this to sound arrogant for it is the furthest thing from that you can imagine. When you do the best you can, it really is good. Really good. Because it is the best you can do. We should pat ourselves on the back more for this very reason. And not Judgy McJudgerson. For in my world, and for that mum on the iPhone like me, judging is for bitches.

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My best I can weekend included a great disco party for the entire class plus the teacher which was as chaotic and noisy and exhausting as it sounds. But my seven year old loved every bit of it. She even loved her sugar free and dairy free cake which most kids left on the plate. Her resilience is phenomenal and sometimes she surprises me with her insightfulness. She knows that this is her birthday cake option so she scoffed it with coconut cream and all. If it was on offer she would have eaten it with a camomile tea. She is doing the best she can.

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The next day we backed it up with a roller skating party. “It is roller BLADE-ING now mum”, says the newly nine year old rolling her eyes. I’d like to roller blade her rolling eyes.

Nine year olds are an awesome lot. The only problem were the bazillion extra grey hairs I sprouted watching precious offspring whizz around on concrete. Whilst many of them were completely hopeless in the first 30 minutes, they all kept trying and did the best they could. At the end of the party there was a whole room of exhausted but proud nine year olds. And I learnt a lot from them.

I learnt that trying is the best you can.

I learnt that resilience and bouncing back (or bouncing on concrete) is the best you can.

I learnt that friendship and awkwardness and learning how to manage all of that, is the best you can.

I learnt that birthday parties and parenting and trying to hold a conversation are the best I can.

And I learnt that sometimes just getting through my day without having a complete meltdown is the best I can.

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So I invested back in myself this week. I will do extra Pilates and no mid week running thanks to sheer exhaustion. Then I decided to give a shit about my exhausted appearance and play along with Style and Shenanigans and her #snstexture. This means that I consciously get dressed and put on my game face every day. Faking it has worked for me in the past and this week, it has been a fabulous way for me to feel like I am doing the best I can.

Then at the end of a seriously large amount of sleep over the past two nights, I picked up the one fanged monkey from day care. He has oddly had an aversion to painting (I know, go figure) for the entire year. He straight out refuses to join in. What it is about, I have no idea. His speech is not clear enough for him to articulate that. But for whatever reason, he decided that yesterday was the day that he was going to do the best he can. And he did this.

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Colour him a painter. Colour him doing the best he can.

Colour me red because doing the best I can should scream confidence + bravado. Doing the best I can IS the best. And that feels like the bravest thing I have done in a long time.

 

Colour me a silver lining

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In my darkest, nastiest days I had a really strong desire to get out of the black. I don’t know where this desire lived when the nasty took over but it would come to visit me every now and then. Then when the colour started to return to my clouded, grey vision it sat closer to the front of my mind. It didn’t jump up and down but it did let itself be known. If it could speak, it would have said, “I have your back.”

It was this sense of hope that I believe helped me to get better. It was a really, really strong will to not feel bad anymore. And yesterday, as I stood in front of 1,100 students I realised that I had shaken the throes of anxiety.

Yes, I am a worrier.

Yes, I am a planner. Although lately I seem less concerned with this.

Yes, anxiety may come back to my busy mind some days but mostly, I feel free of it. I have recovered. I had hope so I found resilience. And although I feel like I have to fight it away each day, I am immensely proud. And calm. I am going to enjoy the ride whilst it lasts.

In those darkest, nastiest days there was a silver lining. I am the person I am today because of my anxiety. And I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.

I don’t quite know how to colour myself today.

I do feel very blue – calm + mindful. It seems like a good place to be.

Here is an extract from my speech as my first appearance as a beyondblue speaker. It has been modified due to the age of the audience.

I hit the wall in May 2012.

It is quite tricky to put into words how I felt when I was diagnosed with anxiety.

The main feeling was one of overwhelming panic.

It was the kind of panic that stopped me from making simple decisions. Some days I would stand at the kitchen bench completely frozen because I had no idea how I was going to get the kids their breakfast. Other days I would stare at my wardrobe trying to work out how I was going to get dressed.

If I had to just write down all the feelings that I felt it would look something like this:

Panic, indecision, fear, a racing heart, pains in my chest, unable to make a commitment to anything – fun or not fun, unable to deal with a change in my plans, I could not see colour – everything was black and white. I felt like I was wearing blinkers, that my vision was impaired in some way. It all looked grey. There was literally no colour in my vision.

I was constantly on edge with the tiniest thing pushing me into a state of panic or rage. Some days I even scared myself with how angry I could become and how quickly I could become angry.

I was so exhausted yet I couldn’t sleep. The most simple tasks were completely overwhelming. Some days it was difficult to breathe. I cried a lot. I cried at least every day and sometimes several times a day. I was exhausted from the crying and the lack of sleep.

I lost my ability to concentrate, my short term memory was awful and I lost the ability to complete sentences. I would quite literally stop speaking mid sentence.

At my lowest point, too many things were falling apart. I started to have panic attacks where I would feel like a really uncomfortable pressure was building inside my head and a weight was on my chest. My vision would blur and my fingers felt like they were tingling. Then my heart would start to race and I would begin to sweat. And panic more.

At work, I would sit at my desk and watch emails come in. I could hardly read them let alone action them. At home I just couldn’t hold it together and daily tasks would render me useless. One of my worst panic attacks was trying to pack a suitcase for a weekend away. It became too much.

I stopped wanting to socialise. I didn’t enjoy food anymore so I didn’t see the point in going out for dinner. I no longer wanted to talk to anyone. Conversations were really, really hard because I couldn’t concentrate on them. I would forget what people were saying just a moment after they had spoken. I was easily distracted and worst of all I had absolutely no resilience.

Seeking Help

I knew that things were not right but I just could not articulate my feelings. I could not explain how my seemingly fabulous life was causing me so much sadness. And how I could literally feel my body falling apart under the weight of the stress I was putting myself under. I think deep down, I knew that something was really wrong but it took a panic attack in front of the kids and my husband for me to rally myself into action. Until then, I was really, simply, only just treading water to survive.

A series of appointments with health professionals highlighted to me my inability to cope. I had lost weight, my hair was falling out, my immune system was struggling and I was hardly sleeping.

After my most severe panic attack my mum suggested for me to see my GP. I think I had known that I needed to go for several weeks but it took someone else to tell me to. I was so indecisive that I needed that gentle push.

My GP referred me to a psychologist. I came home and spoke with my husband and my parents and we all decided that I needed to address things. I was 37 years old, a mother of four and I had to move back in with my parents, which was pretty embarrassing.

Recovery

My diagnosis of anxiety made me feel humiliated, ashamed and so, so sad. Thankfully though, there was an underlying sense of relief that what I was feeling was not normal and that I could get help to feel better. I also remember feeling determined that I wasn’t going to accept that this what how I should feel. I was determined to get better. That was my sense of hope.

This sense of hope was vital because I was a complete mess. Probably the thing that really got me through it was my desire to not feel this bad anymore. And although it was a lot of two steps forward, one step backwards as long as I kept moving in the right direction, that was all that mattered.

My recovery was successful because I chose to do one simple thing. I listened to people and not my head.

I listened to my GP when he told me to stay away from alcohol.

I listened to my psychologist when she told me to meditate. So I meditated a lot. And I still do.

I listened to my naturopath when she explained the impact of blood sugar levels on mood stability. So I adopted a largely protein based diet full of greens and with very limited sugar.

I was, and still am, a very keen runner but a series of nasty injuries meant I had to listen to my osteopath and my body. I have become a big fan of Pilates, which also offers a degree of mindfulness.

I listen, every single day, to my body. I will let it rest if it needs rest. This doesn’t mean I stay in bed and sleep. It just means I might say no to a couple of things and allow myself to slow down for a little bit.

Resilience

Every cloud has a silver lining. In my darkest, colourless days I began to write. It was a wonderful way for me to empty my very busy head. I kept a diary where my deepest, most dreadful thoughts were allowed to escape onto the page. Where no one would judge me. It was an incredibly cathartic way for me to manage and process my thoughts and emotions.

My writing has led me to a new career as a writer. I have a blog where I talk about my recovery from anxiety. It led me to an interview in a local magazine, which was read by someone at beyondblue and here I am today.

Every day I eat well. I get a good amount of sleep. I exercise because it is fabulous for my head and it makes me feel really good. I use the Smiling Mind app to meditate and I cannot recommend it enough. I practice daily gratitude both around the dinner table and in a journal I keep beside my bed. I write and I embrace colour.

I need to be mindful and careful when I get tired or too busy. If I get injured, I need to be aware of the impact a lack of exercise has on my head. I put my hand up when I am not quite coping. I talk to people and I ask for help.

Hope

The biggest lesson I have learnt from this experience is to ask, “How are you?” I ask this all the time on my blog and FB page. I ask it of friends and most importantly, I ask it of myself.

By being in tune with how I am feeling I can adjust my way of thinking to manage anxiety.

If you ask yourself how you are and the answer is not quite right then I can only encourage you to seek help. Talk to someone, your friend, your family, your GP or beyondblue. You cannot get better if you do not help yourself.

You also need to check on your friends or family. Ask them if they are okay. Tell them you have their back. Not one single person that I have talked about my anxiety with has been anything but amazingly supportive. Go on. Ask them, “How are you?”

 

I am a member of the beyondblue Speakers Bureau where I volunteer at community events and speak about beyondblue’s work and share my personal story about depression and anxiety. If you would like to book a speaker for an event, please email speaker@beyondblue.org.au.

 

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