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  1. Following on shortly from my last piece, I went in to see my counsellor. As I'm sure you will have got from S0202, I wasn't in the best of places. A mentally challenging weekend had left me mentally beaten, battered and bruised. I found myself feeling pretty lost and defeated, but still something separate from depressed. And yet somehow, I ended up leaving that session with my spirits lifted, vitality renewed and ready to get back on the wagon. After almost 5 years of varying treatment and talking therapies, I really feel like I'm making some progress. You name it, I've tried it. Hypnotherapy. Private counselling. Hypnotherapy again. More private counselling, as well as three rounds of NHS Talking Therapies on top. The worst bit is having to explain 16 years of anxiety to new people at the start of each course. Often it feels as if you are just talking to a labcoat - someone that is just marking your symptoms off a checklist and giving you the usual spiel on how to get better. My current therapist is different. He was very keen to explain from the start that he himself had experienced and suffered with anxiety for years. Not just anxiety, but almost exactly the same symptoms as myself. And he beat it. I kind of see him as my anxiety sherpa, leading the way to my own success. Despite the recent efforts towards increasing awareness of mental health and the surrounding issues, there are many out there that still feel unable, perhaps even unwilling, to seek help. Mental illnesses are still thought of as being a weakness, a character flaw, something to be ashamed of. That just isn't the case. If anything, the day to day struggles can strengthen your character, and help you see the world in a different light. Personally, I found that my anxiety made me a more considerate person and generally more understanding of others. It encourages you to be more kind in all pursuits, after all you simply don't know what's going on another person's head. They might just need a friendly smile from a stranger to conquer their own demons for that day. Be more kind. After half hour or so of explaining why I was feeling so down and beaten, he asked me a question I don't think I'll forget in a hurry. "Do you feel fulfilled with your life?" I mean, what do you even say to that... It caught me completely off-guard and really provoked some serious thinking. Do I feel fulfilled? My immediate answer was no, and let me explain why. I've been dealing with various forms of anxiety for most of my adult life. It started when I was 14. I'm just about to turn 32. Virtually every decision I've ever made about the direction of my life, has been made under the influence of anxiety. Why did I stop going on holidays abroad with friends and family? Anxiety. Why didn't I finish my studies at university? Anxiety. Why did I keep it a secret from my family for months after dropping out? Anxiety? Why didn't I learn to paraglide when I had the opportunity? Anxiety. Why have I never sat through a friends' wedding ceremony? Anxiety. I was filled with frustration and anger as to how I had become such a slave to my mental health. The weight of the weekend's events felt even heavier. But then I had a light-bulb moment. I do feel fulfilled. I am an extremely lucky person. Sure, anxiety definitely did shape some of the decisions I made, but it also helped shaped me into the person I am now. I might not have become a teacher of languages, but instead I'm a successful accountant. Social anxiety kept me bound for so long, yet somehow I managed to put it to one side and become a part of the Ember team as Community Manager. I met my long-suffering, long-caring fiancée. I felt everything fall into perspective, and it gave me the reassurances I needed to drag myself back out of the hole I'd found myself in, to get back on the wagon and to be answering back to my anxieties with 'F**k It' once more. The thing about Talking Therapies is, once you give voice to a thought, it becomes real. You hear it out loud and you really start to question it. The person you're speaking with hears it and questions it. You get new points of view that you hadn't even considered. To all those unsure of opening up, seeking help or just finding someone to talk to - talking about your mental health really does help. You got this. It gets better.
  2. It's been a while since I last posted, sorry about that! I've been going through a bit of a tough time lately, both physically and mentally; it's been hard to find the words to share what's going on inside my head. To be perfectly honest, I'm in two minds about posting this one. It shares a little bit more than I would like, but that's the thing with anxiety. There's no middle ground. I was feeling quite positive at my last point of writing. The 'F**k It* ideology is an interesting one, and something I felt I could really get behind. Unfortunately, things haven't quite gone to plan and I feel I've actually ended up taking steps backwards. Like I said last time, I find it difficult to express myself at the best of times. I try and try to be the positive change I want to see in other people, but can often be found contradicting myself, opting to isolate myself and enjoy solitude, instead of clamping down on my issues. Anxiety and depression can be... overwhelmingly powerful. The past couple of months have been all about weddings. A time to celebrate and enjoy the moment, right? That's the bit I'm struggling with. I had two events this weekend, visiting a wedding venue for Mrs-Sausage-To-Be (she will legitimately kill me for calling her that) and myself, and the other one being watching one of my close friends from college get married. Our group has reached that age, where everyone is now getting married or having their second (or third) kids. It's something I look forward to, but at the same time dread. Now don't get me wrong, super excited for both events. I wouldn't have proposed if I hadn't wanted to do it. Perhaps that's why it came as such a surprise to friends and family... But I am completely and utterly filled with dread at the prospect of standing in front of people during the ceremony, having attention thrust upon me during a speech, or even in having a stag do. So much so, I might have to the latter a miss. I just don't know if I can handle that - the travel, the activities, the drinking.... I'm 31, pushing 32, and have never sat through anyone's wedding ceremony. To give you an idea of how the spiraling descent into madness goes, I kept a mini diary through the week: One week out Easy. You got this. Two days out Oh boy. Here come the heebie jeebies. 'F**k it' becomes F**k. The day before I went straight down to the gym in the morning, as I do every day, but anxiety is waving now. Oh hello meticulous planning, the thoughts of 'do I even want to be there' and 'Will anyone actually notice if I'm not there?' F**k becomes F**K. Event day The day of travel, and I woke up to a vicious bout of IBS. It's true what they say, its linked to stress and anxiety, and my intestines are letting me know that. My head is full of thoughts of cancelling, about how I'm going to manage a small 1h20 drive, about what we'll do when we get there. Already I feel myself panicking, and I don't know why. Or moreover, why I can't push it all to the back of my mind. I find myself thinking not of this trip, but of my nephew's christening, of just how the hell am I EVER going to beat this. This is where the depressive cycle kicks in, I begin to feel worthless and guilty, not for my own issues, but for dragging my long suffering fiancee down with me. I'm desperately telling myself the positives, how great it will be, how much I deserve a fucking break, that I hold worth. See how today goes I guess. I'm in the gym, trying to beat it out of me. F**K becomes F**K F**K F**K. Of course, it all works out in the end. Anxiety is nothing more than getting yourself worked up over hypothetical outcomes that will likely never happen. I know that, and yet in the heat of the moment, I cannot come to believe it. You can tell yourself over and over again that it will be ok, but you have to believe it's going to be. So where do we go from here? I'm going back to my therapist later today to talk options. I think I'm going to give medication another try. I'd much rather not, but I just want to get a grip. In the meantime, if you are struggling, please drop me a DM. My door is always open for a confidential chat. I've also found listening to podcasts a tremendous help - in particular The Hilarious World Of Depression - a series where comedians and public figures go on to talk about their experiences with mental health issues. It's well worth checking out.
  3. I've never been one to show emotion publicly, always erring on the side of some things are better kept personal. But ever since I started writing 'Thoughts of an Anxious Man,' I've found the whole process somewhat therapeutic, and really cannot recommend it enough. Writing is an excellent way of venting frustrating and sharing things you might otherwise find difficult putting into words. It's been a particularly trying couple of months for me. A rollercoaster of emotions that, for once, I have really been struggling to keep in check. Some will remember how we left at the end of Season 1 - verging on the edge of *radical acceptance* as a means of getting past anxious thoughts. To summarise - rather than fighting the anxiety every step of the way, the theory is that you just accept it. You accept that this is just the way you are, make your peace and live with it - the idea being that once you start to go with the flow, then there is less resistance and therefore less anxious thoughts. I started reading a couple of books which centre on this ideology. If you get chance, I would highly recommend checking out 'F**k It - The Ultimate Spiritual Way.' Things were going great, and I was finally happy with the progress I was seeing. But then, I hit a bit of a stumbling block. As some will know, I've had some health concerns over the past couple of months, been poked, prodded and examined and had been told that I have a condition that basically affects what and when I can eat. Food is my life. Being told that I should avoid all the things I actually enjoy, and eat all the things I don't like, was honestly a bit crushing. Alcohol isn't really allowed, which means my significant stash of beer/whiskey must now be given away! But I'm trying to take it in my stride, so we'll see how that goes. I was a nervous wreck for a long time, doing the one thing you should never do and Googling my symptoms. I woke up several times just thinking 'F**k. This is something really bad.' My anxiety skyrocketed and I didn't leave the house for a good couple of weeks except to go to the doctors. I found myself shaking like the metaphorical shitting dog, whilst I had to repeatedly go through all these consultations. One on one situations are one of the worst triggers for me mentally, so going to the docs over and over and over again...well it wasn't fun! Luckily for me, it ended up not being anything too serious, yet serious enough that I would have to make some lifestyle changes. Fair. My dim outlook suddenly got a whole lot brighter, and I began to make ground on my confidence again. AND THEN. And then. Right when I was finally feeling positive, I cracked a f**king tooth. Sitting in the dentist's chair is one of the worst situations I could possible ever find myself. It's a serious anxiety trigger and even as I write this I can feel my hands shaking. Last time I had to go to the dentist, I had to have a filling. Normally takes 20-30 minute procedure - nice and simple eh? Nope. Mine took one and a half hours, simply because I cannot sit still in the chair for longer than 5 minutes at a time. I mean no, it's not the end of the world. Some people might read this and laugh at my inane fears, but to each their own. I'll likely be sedated, embarrass myself in a drunken stupor, and laugh it off for the next couple of weeks. But if anything, this whole episode has served as a reminder that life is too short to worry about things you cannot control. I'm more determined than ever to crack on the road to recovery. Anxiety is, and likely will always be, a part of me. So what can we do? What can we say? 'F**k it.' We take small steps. We do the things that we want to do, with the people we want to do them with. F**k anxiety. It might seem like the biggest obstacle you will ever have to overcome, but don't ever let it get in the way of your physical health, or you enjoying life. No matter what your head tells you, whether its worrying that you're going to vomit in front of someone, that they'll laugh at you or that you will embarrass yourself. Just try saying 'f**k it.'
  4. One of the hardest things I've found as an anxiety-sufferer is how best to explain it to non-sufferers. Those people that manage to get by in life without, seemingly, a care in the world. What do you say to someone, whose first response is often 'Oh it'll be fine,' or 'You've got nothing to worry about?' So how about this: "Anxiety is having a wonderful day ahead of you but not enjoying it because you’re thinking about that 2 minute phone call you’ll have to make in five days." Imagine one day, you wake up to find a fat, succulent, bacon sandwich waiting for you on the breakfast table. It's Spring, the sun is shining and that film you've been waiting a year to see is released. Except you can't enjoy it. You want to, but you can't. Why? Because there's a little demon called Anxiety, sat on your shoulder, reminding you of that innocent, little situation coming up that you've been dreading. You're sat there, with a plate of bacon in front of you, its aroma wafting through the air - and all you can think of is that thing you have at the end of the week. It's beyond nerves. Your mind becomes convinced something terrible is going to happen there, something completely and utterly out of your control. On one hand sits the rational part of your mind. Deep down, this side of you knows nothing is going to happen. It knows life will go on as normal. But on the other hand sits the irrational part of your subconscious - that ancient part of you that still cares only for one thing - your safekeeping. It's a pure, animalistic, flight-or-fight reaction, under inappropriate circumstances. A spiral kicks in - the more you think about this particular trigger, the worse you imagine the outcome to be, the more you worry about it and so on, and so on. Sound familiar...? "Anxiety is always knowing where the exits are." Different people have different triggers. For me, it's certain social situations and interactions where it might be awkward for me to get out of. These are typically one-on-one situations, such as a trip to the doctor, dentist or barber, where I would feel awkward or embarrassed to leave. Yep, my anxiety stems from being too damn polite. It's because I think I would be wasting those people's time if I needed to get up and get out. It's the same when driving in a car with others - and to this day I would rather incur a petrol cost and drive myself to an event, than to car pool with friends. I hate it. That said, I'm learning how better to deal with it. I'd spent years in conflict with my anxiety, often seeing it as something I wanted to expel permanently - but one of the biggest turning points was the realisation that, in order to move forward, I had to accept that my anxiety was driven by a subconscious desire to keep my body and being safe. My mind was simply looking out for me, and that I really should be thankful for it. I've gone from being in an internal struggle to a coalition of sorts. Now we're working together and I finally feel like I have some element of control back.
  5. Recently I've started a huge venture for me online, doing Youtube videos or streams and cosplays etc. and I've just started earning a little money from doing it from my Patreon account. You'd think this would give me a huge confidence boost, right? Wrong. As soon as the first pledges came through and people actually wanted to pay a little to see some of the extras in the shoots and VLOGs etc I tried to quit. I messaged Ben that I was going to take the sites down. He was a bit confused but reminded me that I've done this before with my book and then alter with my streams. As soon as things start to get good, I throw it all away. So I sat down and tried to understand why I would get this huge PANIC to just close down every social media account I have and live forever in my house under my fluffy blanket, eating cheese and drinking Lara's Ribena cartons. Then it hit me: I feel like a fraud. I don't feel like I'm good enough at any of the things that I do to earn anything from them. I don't feel like people should have had to pay for my book that took a year to write, or to see any of the hours and hours of work I did on my clay modelling, photo restorations or my cosplays or my Twitch streams or my Youtube videos. I don't feel worthy enough. That's why I quit my Twitch really, it wasn't time. That was an excuse. Once I got Affliate status and people could pay I quit because I didn't feel it was worth anything. That's why I took my book off Amazon once it got to 3000 downloads and it's why I always sabotage everything that I do. In case I disappoint someone from it. I'm fine with other people's work, but when it comes to my own, I am my worst damn critic. With great hair. Can't even begin to recall just how many things I've stopped myself from doing because I don't feel like I deserve that kind of happiness. Even as a young girl I could never imagine having a life past my teen years, not in a suicidal way in the slightest but when I looked forward it was always black, I didn't feel like I deserved one. Ha. Like I would just cease to exist after that point! it's only recently that I've been able to decode my own brain like this. No bloody wonder I've got anxiety now. The hardest part of figuring this out was then realising that the only way to stop it would be to face it head on, keep everything I'm doing and push through. I've had a really long fortnight of anxiety as people begin to up their pledges or message me and tell me they love my cosplays, photos or videos and I've had to stop myself from legging it and becoming a hermit with one of those Gandalf hats and a long pipe with nothing in it because I don't smoke. I've never sweated so much in my life and I workout 4 times a week. My stomach is now a mess and I'm off to the doctors to deal with neck tension and tinnitus because given how high my anxiety has been, it's all come back with vengeance! I'm assuming this can be quite common amongst others with depression or anxiety and if you've dealt with this and carried on then fucking well done, it really isn't easy! I gave up creating things before I even started my adult life because of it. So I've got a few years of catch up to do now, ignoring that annoying little bastard in my head and just going for it. So if you see me around, be kind. I'm broken. Have a great week, guys. NX
  6. It was a new day. Was it? Had a day actually passed? It could be a new day. Suddenly I find myself in the kitchen staring at the coffee pot slowly sweating as it got hotter. I stare further into one small droplet and I’m transported into a memory of the swimming pool I used to go to as a kid. I used to love swimming, most of the time I would go alone but not always; other times I would go with my sister or some of our friends. But I loved to go alone. I always believed that if I could breathe underwater I’d always be so much more at peace; an empty swimming pool is sometimes better than an empty book store, like staring at your ceiling in the dead of the night, it opened up the walls of my mind and let my imagination loose. I hovered in the chlorine water, miles from the surface, and suddenly it wasn’t chlorine at all but salt water. I was in the sea and amidst the dark shone the beautiful bright bioluminescence of the Jelly and Angler fish that swam as still as corpses. Then the darkness disappeared and my eyes were greeted with hues of violet, turquoise and saffron. I didn’t need to breathe. A pod of Orcas made their way calmly passed me, with the two smaller ones coming close to inspect this not-fish floating in the ocean before the clicks and higher pitched calls of their mother called them back to the pod ahead. I stare at them and felt a small amount of happiness before a very large feeling of dread. The sea became furious and red. The pod of Orcas fought with all their might to fight the battering rams of wave after wave. They’re separated and the male is flung up above the surface of the thrashing, frothing waves and tossed against each new hand that formed. It cries for help but the others are being pushed against the current. The last thing I hear of them are their shrill, mournful cries before being taken away by the current. I don’t need to breathe. The storm settles and the vehement reds become olive and chartreuse, algae surrounds me and clumsily tumbles over my skin and through my fingers and toes. It is gentle and kind. A thousand million hands gently guide me forward through the green haze and stillness of the ocean. As I do the sun shines its coruscating light and falls softly on the citron water and I can see all the way to the bottom. Small figures approach. Their backs are cylindrical and their fins barely visible, except for when the curtain parts from the small ripples made from the kicking of my feet. The turtles are two and they approach languidly, one, the larger, with a stick held in its mouth and the other, who was considerably smaller but wider, carried a doily on its back. Both become level with my eye line and blink slowly. I looked at their eyes and see a ghostly blue that is both calming and familiar. They look to be smiling in a both pleased and – once again – familiar way. The male, who was the larger, let go of the stick in his mouth and let it drop lazily into my right hand, I see now it is not a stick but a walking cane. The smaller female picks the doily on her back and watches as it tidily finds itself around my neck. They both blink in a slow nod, give a weak smile before flying through the green mist, upwards and towards the surface world. I don’t need to breathe. The world of colour disappears. Black tendrils envelope the surroundings like ink in water and I have returned to the world of the dark and I am worn out and weary. My heart pounds as strong and as infrequent as thunder. I am falling now and the water becomes cold, and in the cold I fall further and further and falling still, in an eternity seconds pass and I have found the bottom of the ocean. It isn’t the coarse sand I feel below my feet but hard and smooth material, like bone. I can feel the gentle brush of the sea weed and the small crustaceans rush away from the disturbance I have caused. I can’t breathe. Silence. And nothing but. The light had all gone and only the sensation of the gentle current of the Dead Sea remained. I could feel nothing else, and then nothing at all. Tired. So tired. I wasn’t breathing. Silence is followed by a sound, a resonating beat that thuds through the body and snares my attention. Light erupts and all the colours cascade into my mind with reds and greens and blues and yellows, each race through every corner of my mind. I need to… I feel the waves once again, but this time they are gentle; each like a soft hand waking a child. My back was laid on sand. It wasn’t coarse like the kind I knew but soft and inviting. I wanted to … I gasp, cough and splutter the sea water. My lungs burned with the remnants of the brine and I cough some more until they’re clear. I could breathe. The Kitchen remerges and I haven’t move a muscle. My face is damp but it is not from my voyage but from sweat. The coffee pot goes on standby. I hold myself for a second and regard my surroundings. I can see myself in the reflection of the glass cupboards. I can see our family photo when from when we all went on our last holiday to Greece. And I can see a photo of my Grandparents next to each other, smiling months before they passed away. Life’s an adventure Kid, my Grandad used to say. No, not an adventure. An Odyssey.
  7. I blinked and she disappeared, as did the room, and the surrounding area was nothing but inky darkness, that flowed slowly as if made of water or very thick mist. I blinked again and the door to the kitchen had reappeared. Inside the walls and the tiles of the floor were cracked and often, and the only light source was that of a street lamp that had surreptitiously placed itself in the space between the door and the kitchen table. It, like its environment, was in a state of disrepair and the egg shaped bulb that was tucked away behind the fractured glass waxed and waned. I’d be safe there, I told myself. Walking however was not as easy as it once was. Every step was as heavy as the next as if my shoes were filled with cement and my muscles had given in to atrophy. Each time i couldn’t be sure if the shadows for which my feet scraped against would be solid floor or, like the shows would have me perceive, be like water and with my heavy, useless limbs I would fall into the abyss that had surrounded me. It was the light, I told myself. The light would keep me safe. But with each arduous shift of my body the bulb of the derelict street lamp shrunk and the kitchen itself peeled more and more away. If I didn’t get there soon I would be lost. I cried and shouted to the room ahead of me, each time my voice was become more hoarse and monstrous. Fire burned through my veins and pressure filled my head causing blood to pour from my nose and ears. I was steps away one moment then was a league away the next, each time I would drag and drag my feet towards the ever fading light, often pulling my legs by the knees with my arms. I was closer now and my hand could just about touch the door frame. A small amount of hope filled my body enough to push myself harder and make that last step through the threshold. As my right foot was about to land, like the last step of an absurd marathon, the door frame spasmed and collapsed on itself leaving me on my knees in the black smoke of the place that was once her living room. Hot tears filled my eyes and poured from my face as I gave into a sob. My throat was too dry for me to cry out leaving me making sounds that were more akin to that of a croak. “I can’t do it”, I muttered through snot and the bullet-like tears, “I simply can’t”. A hand placed itself upon my shoulder, “Dee”, said a soft voice. I spun around, faster than I could have, and found my self on my knees in a brightly lit room with her in front of me. She smile a soft smile, the kind that never made you feel alone nor ever showed any indifference and, whilst crouching in front of me said quite simply, “You never have to do this alone”. The world returned. The tar that had enveloped me had evaporated and colour returned to the world. She helped me to my feet and kissed me softly. I didn’t let go.
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