Thursday, 5 April 2018

Candy Crush or Crisps!?

A Thrive Update.....

I started writing this blog in March 2017 but managed a paragraph and then have been so busy setting up my new businesses that I haven't had much time to get back to complete it.  I've decided to publish it as it is so have divided it into the months I have written it.

March 2017

In Sunday's YOU magazine on 26th March, Dawn O'Porter wrote an article on depression and mental health problems.  She described her low point as 'sitting on the sofa eating crisps'. I'll be honest, at my lowest point (July 2016) I was sitting on the sofa playing Candy Crush! I'd have had to be close to death to take a day off sick from work, although work was almost all I could manage at that point, I just couldn't see it.  I told myself I deserved the sit-down, I worked full time and I should relax.  Often this was at 3pm in the afternoon.  I don't doubt that relaxation is a good thing but the truth is I wasn't really relaxing, I was worrying and brooding and thinking of all the things I should probably be doing but just couldn't be bothered!

May 2017

It's been nearly eight months now since I completed the Thrive Programme and I write this paragraph sat in a rooftop garden in Bergerac overlooking the Dordogne.  Yesterday I took my first flight since completing Thrive and although it was short (an hour and a half) it proved to me, once again, how far I have come.  My husband reserved seats on the flight, I let him with no desire to take control to make sure I was comfortable with where we sat, or to ensure I was fully prepared in my head for what may come (which I now realise is anticipatory anxiety and not at all useful!). 

I can't believe how much life I was missing out on, I was most definitely surviving and not thriving! I lived and worked for the lovely holidays, telling myself that once I got through the crap I would have something fabulous to look forward to.  In just a short period of time I have a life that I don't feel in need of a holiday from (although I am enjoying the break!).

July 2017

Upon my return from France in May, I found out that my Aunt was in hospital.  Without hesitation, I contacted her and arranged to visit.  This was actually challenging the final 'safety behaviour' that I used to do as an emetophobe although I didn't think about that until afterwards.  On the day of my visit, I was dropped off at the entrance, I had to walk through many corridors of the hospital and use a lift, all of which would have left me terrified, that's if I'd actually managed to step foot inside the hospital in the first place!

23rd July 2017
Today I reflect on the past year and the difference it has made to me and my life.  While most of my family and close friends knew about my fear, none of them realised what I went through every day to try to live a normal life.  Even I never considered that it was anything I would ever be able to change, I thought it was part of who I was and I just had to live with it.

Throughout my blogs, I have briefly mentioned the emetophobic thoughts I had but I have mainly focussed on overcoming the anxiety and how other areas of my life have changed because I just don't think in the same way anymore.  

I now pick up my niece from school once a week and am excited about our time together, rather than worrying that I'm on my own with her.

I went into my niece's classroom for the afternoon to do craft with her and about 30 other five and six-year-old children without worry about germs.

I don't get a stomach tightening or become on edge if someone coughs.

My niece and nephew have stayed overnight and I wasn't worrying about what they were eating before bed, nor hardly sleeping because I thought I could hear them tossing and turning, I enjoyed my time with them before bedtime and I slept solidly.

I jumped at the chance of a day out on the bus and train as it meant both myself and my husband could enjoy the day and have a drink.

I went to a nightclub event at a golf club and while waiting for the toilet, two girls ran past and started throwing up in the shower cubicle, I stayed and waited for the toilet like everyone else.

There are so many other moments I could mention that probably seem so insignificant to anyone who isn't or hasn't been emetophobic but to me, they are huge milestones.  These are just the sickness related things, there are so many other anxiety related 

My final challenge

5 April 2018

As much as I knew how well I was doing, my ultimate fear was myself being sick.  It’s been almost nine years since this happened to me until just over a week ago! Yes, the inevitable happened, I have no idea why and I don’t really care.  What I know is it happened, I didn’t panic, I didn’t stress out, I didn’t think I might die.  I thought ‘I’m going to be sick’ and then I was and I can only say it was quite unpleasant! That’s it, unpleasant, for a few minutes of my life.  So I can once and for all confirm that I’m over it.  I no longer have emetophobia.  Thrive really works.

Thanks for reading my story.


Friday, 10 February 2017

Don't look so worried

'Don't look so worried' was all I ever heard.  Now, thinking back, did they see something in me that I couldn't?  This comment wasn't just friends or family, it was customers at work, random people I met.  I used to respond with a nervous laugh to shrug it off, or, if I was feeling brave I would make a comment that I couldn't help it!

I would read and watch books and films about people who had mental illness, hear stories from friends, and think it was something I hoped I never had to deal with.  I knew I had my phobia, I just never considered that it might be a mental health issue, yet with that phobia came anxiety, stress and worry which are all part of it.  In particular, emetophobia* can be extremely debhilitating as it is a constant worry.  It is not something that can be avoided.  

 Putting it into words

I have been trying to think of a way to help people to understand how having a mental health problem can make you feel.  Much like physical disability, we are given a 'picture' of what someone will look like.  The illustration on a disabled parking bay is that of a wheelchair, so when someone with a blue badge parks there and doesn't get into a wheelchair (or perhaps a walking aid), some might question whether they are entitled.  In reality, there are many reasons why someone would be granted a blue badge.  
In the past, my picture of mental illness or 'depression' was someone sitting rocking in a corner, unable to leave the room or house and possibly being suicidal.  This most definitely wasn't how I was feeling.  To put it into simple terms, the way I felt was like you would if you had a permanent cold.  Not what some might call flu (that leaves you unable to lift your head off the pillow), just a mild cold that wouldn't go away.  Having a cold (for most) doesn't stop you from continuing with everyday life, you simply don't feel 100% well.  You struggle through for the short period of illness, perhaps putting on your brave face at times when you would rather have stayed at home.  Imagine having a permanent cold that lasted so long you forgot what 'well' felt like and this state you were in just became your normal.  This was my normal and I was so used to it being there, I thought there was nothing I could do about it.  

Make your own 'Happy' 

 They say you can't buy happiness and I always doubted this phrase.  I always felt happy when I was able to treat myself to something or pay for a lovely holiday, even buying things for other people made me 'happy'.  When I was working through Thrive, we had a discussion about buying clothes, Paul suggested I did it 'to make me feel better' and that's exactly what it was.  I was trying to buy myself some happiness, but of course, this was short-lived, whether a few minutes of appreciating a new dress or a couple of weeks on a holiday, this feeling never lasted.  Now I don't doubt that money can buy you security but it is up to you to create your own happiness, no one can do it for you and you certainly can't buy it!

Speaking of happy...I have just downloaded Fearne Cotton's new book 'Happy' and read the first couple of chapters.  Fearne describes the feeling as being blue to start with and then black on the darkest days.  Some describe depression as a black dog, others a black hole and some give a personal name to it.  I have decided to give a personal name to my negative thoughts.  I'm not going to say what it is as I don't want to offend anyone but now, on the rare occasion that a negative thought creeps into my head, I send it away by saying 'shut up xxx'.  

*I suffered from emetophobia for most of my adult life and my story can be found in my earlier blog posts.  Since recovering, I have become interested in mental health problems and hope that by writing this blog I am able to help someone else with their issues.   

Monday, 9 January 2017

My Blackpool Experience

My Blackpool Experience

On Saturday 7th January 2017 my husband and I took part in our first ever dance competition.  For us, this experience was only ever to say that we did it. We started dancing just over 18 months ago and then about a year ago we moved to an improvers class with new teachers and really started to become inspired.  In November 2016 with my new found belief in myself, we put our names down for the over 35 beginners competitions (Waltz and Quickstep in the ballroom; Cha Cha and Jive in the Latin)  and increased our training from a once a week class to include a weekly practice session and some private lessons.  In fact, we practiced anywhere and everywhere we could find the space - including the aisles of our local Sainsbury's!

As I have said in a previous blog, our only aim was to get round without forgetting any steps, we knew the competition would be at a very high level, some couples having competed in several competitions over several years.  While we had put in as much effort and practice as we could fit in, we had only been serious about entering two months prior to the competition.

The day itself started very early, driving up to Blackpool to meet up with our dance school and then have my hair done.  I was excited and in awe of all the competitors who were used to this type of atmosphere.  The changing room was large, full of tables, clothing rails, bags and people.  I used the skills I have learned through the Thrive programme to remain calm, focusing on what we needed to do and not worrying about what anyone else was doing.  

All of the people from our dance school were so supportive and encouraging, advising where we should stand before going on and how to walk on and off the floor.  It was only a couple of minutes before stepping onto the floor for the first time that the nerves kicked in and I just kept thinking 'I can do this, it's going to be fine'.  I achieved my aim of not forgetting any steps and although we didn't get a call back for the second round, I feel very proud of our achievement to have gone out and danced on a ballroom floor with around 15 other couples, 9 judges and an audience of hundreds.  We have found out since that we were only three marks off making the second round.

Looking back at the notes I made while doing the Thrive programme, I set myself a goal to improve my ballroom hold and be more confident with the latin arms.  I have been practising both in preparation for this competition and feel I have achieved these goals.  Although our score in the Latin wasn't as good as the ballroom, my teacher commented that we danced the best she had ever seen from us and I looked like I was having the time of my life!  I really can't ask for more than that.

Ready for the Latin
It's only been two days since the competition and we have already repeated our Cha Cha routine for colleagues at our staff party and I have been invited onto the stage at the Dance Fitness class I attend to do their Cha Cha routine along with the instructor.  I even added in some of my own arm movements from our routine!

All in all the experience of Blackpool has been amazing.  We are not sure yet whether we would like to carry on and compete in more competitions.  For now, we can reflect on how far we have come, enjoy going back to our weekly dance classes and see what happens in the future.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Feeling fantastic

Saturday 10th December

I continue to amaze myself (and often my husband) on a daily basis. I don't mean that I've done anything particularly noteworthy, simply faced a situation in a totally different, positive way.  I started writing this entry this morning from a work colleague's sofa bed following our team night out last night.   

I certainly don't want to keep dwelling on the past but certain situations make me realise that I really have overcome my fear.  There is no way I would have ever stayed at someone's house who wasn't a really close friend or relative.  Last night I was totally in her hands (so to speak) as to where we went and what time we went home.  There was alcohol involved, busy bars and clubs, a town I don't know and two teenage children back at her house (one had also been ill during the week).  I had a fantastic night with no anxiety whatsoever.

One step at a time

I have learnt a lot this year and we are now into a time of year where many people can
feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, I thought I would share a strategy that has continued to work for me.

Everything you do can be broken down into smaller, easier to manage, pieces so rather than facing a task that you feel you can never achieve, set yourself smaller targets and praise yourself for achieving them.  This can be personal or work related.  If even the thought of breaking the task down send you into a panic, don't worry, break it into time slots instead. Perhaps allow yourself an hour to complete as much as you can then take a break.  Don't put pressure on yourself to achieve too much, you may actually end up completing more than you hoped for, which will make you feel much better than falling short of an unrealistic expectation.

I train team leaders and supervisors where targets are an important part of managing their own development as well as setting them for staff.  A good way of setting a target is to use SMART.  This is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.  There are other variations but essentially they have the same meaning.  When setting your own personal targets it can be useful to use the same process.  Make sure your target is clear, so that you will know when it has been achieved, think of how you will check or measure that it has been completed, make sure it is something you will be able to ultimately achieve and it is realistic with a time factor.  Don't think that this means you won't be able to achieve something big, just make sure that the time frame is suitable for the challenge.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and New Year, I'll be back to report on my dancing debut in January!

Friday, 25 November 2016

Two months on...

My last Thrive session was on 2nd October, Paul was an incredible support, challenging me when I needed it and listening, offering additional suggestions and examples to help me to understand things.  Since that anxious first week, I looked forward to my weekly visit knowing I was on the path to a better, happier, more confident life, ruled by me and not my horrible fear. 

I mentioned my 'Thrive Factor' at the beginning was 55/70.   Having challenged and changed my thinking, my overall Thrive factor at the end of the programme is 5/70!!

I also mentioned taking up a new craft.  This was book folding and I found a quote I loved.  I realised after I'd purchased the pattern that it was one of the most difficult patterns I could have chosen but undeterred I purchased a second-hand book from my local charity shop and began the cutting and folding process.  I was determined that I wanted to complete the project by the end of the programme so I would have something tangible to remind me of my achievement.  The book now stands on my shelf where I can see it every day.

The other hobby I had already taken up (in May 2015) was dancing.  I attend a weekly class with my husband but there are times when he can't attend due to work commitments.  These weeks, I happily go by myself and dance with one of the other men.  I even help out new dancers and I have made many new friends and have learnt so much. We are still very much beginner level but since completing Thrive I have signed us up to compete at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool in January 2017! My only aim for that competition is to get around the floor without forgetting any of the steps.  I will update you after the event!

Another significant moment was Monday 21st November when I had a dentist check-up. This was my first visit since the traumatic experience that led me to Thrive.  I never thought I would feel so happy about a visit to the dentist.  No anxiety, no worry and I came out reflecting on how much I have changed. 

Although I loved my job before, I feel so much happier and confident at work now.   I also no longer create anxiety about sickness, if something happens I know I will be able to cope.  

The way I look at life has changed for the better and although I am proud to have made these changes myself I cannot thank my consultant Paul enough for his part in my journey.  

If you would like to find out more about The Thrive Programme click on this link 

My consultant was Paul Lee (based in Wolverhampton).  His website can be found here: Thrive with Paul

Finally, since completing the programme I have made my own video on youtube which you can view by clicking here: I cured my emetophobia with Thrive

I have written this blog over a very short period of time, using the notes I had made during the programme.  I will continue to update when something significant happens.

Let it go!

As an Auntie to a six-year-old niece, I have been very exposed to Disney's Frozen!  During one of the many repeats of the soundtrack, I caught a few words of 'Let it go'.  I listened again intently and then found the lyrics online.  They could have been written for me!  The whole song has meaning but I have highlighted some of the more poignant lyrics.

Listen to the song here

Pre Thrive.....feeling down and unable to tell anyone your true fears...

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I'm the Queen

The wind is howling like the swirling storm inside
Couldn't keep it in; heaven knows I've tried

Don't let them in, don't let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know
Well now they know..........

Post Thrive.... if you listen to the song, the tempo picks up here and life changes...

Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore

Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don't care what they're going to say
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway

It's funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all

It's time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
I'm free!

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You'll never see me cry
Here I stand and here I'll stay
Let the storm rage on

My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I'm never going back, the past is in the past

Let it go, let it go
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfectionist (perfect girl) is gone
Here I stand in the light of day
Let the storm rage on

The cold never bothered me anyway!! 

Next time - Two month update

Challenging Safety behaviours

The hardest thing to change...

One by one I challenged the external Locus of Control statements, along with the Social Anxiety and Self-Esteem points.   Like most things in life it hasn’t been easy but it is most definitely worth it, I’ve had to put in time, hard work and effort to look at my limiting belief systems and unhelpful thinking styles and changing them to more helpful, positive ones. 

There I was happily working my way through the changes when I realised it was time to start challenging my safety behaviours.  This was difficult at first as I couldn't see how I was going to get past most of them.  Here are a few of the most significant ones:

Hand Gel
I always carried hand gel in my handbag and would consider that I over-used it (often to the point that food would taste of it that I touched!).  I had two bottles on the go the day Paul asked me to consider giving it up.  I gave him the bottle I had in my bag at the time and when I got home I fully intended to put the other bottle in the car as a back-up.  The bottle never made it to the car and two weeks later I decided I would hand it over to Paul!  

Anti-nausea tablets
This stems from several visits to the doctor as a young adult for symptoms such as nausea and bloating that were unexplained.  The first time I visited, aged about 18, my doctor asked whether I might be pregnant!  (I wasn't).  I was then prescribed a series of medication that didn't work until at some point in my thirties when I was prescribed anti-nausea tablets.  These did at least stop me from feeling sick so I kept requesting repeat prescriptions.  Eventually, a couple of years ago I found out my problem was lactose intolerance and I started to avoid dairy products where possible (which reduced the nausea significantly).  About a year ago I tried to give up the prescribed tablets and was recommended homeopathic ones.  I always kept these with me 'just in case'.  When I first challenged this behaviour, the tablets made it as far as the bathroom cabinet.  Two days before the end of my programme I felt brave enough to wash them down the sink!

Public transport
This includes bus, train and of course ferries!  I love my holidays and am not at all afraid of flying (although I spent the majority of the flight monitoring people around me for signs they might be sick!).  My sister will tell a story when it was just the two of us on a flight last year, during an attempt to land the pilot encountered a problem.  She and many others were panicking thinking the worst was about to happen.  I was calm and kept telling her we would be fine.  If the man next to me had been sick though it would have been a different story!
On a recent holiday to New York my husband booked a boat trip.  We had been on a boat trip in the Hudson on a previous trip, on a large vessel (as I mentioned, I tried not to let my fear stop me from doing things I really wanted to do).  On this occasion, however, the boat was a schooner and as I watched it bobbing about in the harbour an hour before we were due to board you can imagine the anxiety - not helped by the woman who was trying to put me at ease telling me that if I was sick the crew would look after me!  My husband was on the verge of giving up and going back to the hotel but I went through with it and did actually enjoy the experience (despite feeling nauseous through anxiety the whole time).
I have used trains but was always anxious about it.  During the programme I challenged myself to take a train into Birmingham by myself which I did without anxiety.  I enjoyed it so much I repeated it again before the programme ended.  On a recent trip to London I managed to fit in all means on public - train - bus - tube - boat - DLR - cable car and plane (simulator!).  I could have cried with happiness on the boat as this has always been the biggest anxiety creator for me.  I just sat back and enjoyed the trip - and the sparkling wine!

I have challenged and stopped carrying out all of my safety behaviours and I have tried so many new activities in addition to working through the book that I wonder what I was doing with my time before I started!  

Next time - Let it go!