Taking the positives from the negatives

I’ve been “training my brain” of late to focus on the positive things that happen day-to-day rather than dwelling on the negatives. Without thinking about it, we do tend to talk about the negative things that happen rather than all the good things – whether that’s for fear of irritating people with your happiness or for me, fear of people thinking that that means I am ‘a-okay.’ It’s true of many aspects of life – we talk more about our problems and issues relating to work, relationships, friendships etc rather than regaling in the things that are making us happy. Yes, of course we DO talk about the good, happy things but they tend to come after the things we need to get of our chest.

Typical conversation you may be involved in or overhear:

“Oh hi, so lovely to see you, how are you?”

“Oh, you know, I’m ok but my damn hips are causing me jip and my sleep is all over the place which means the kids are driving me insane and everything that *Rupert* says or does makes me want to scream!.”

“Oh I know exactly what you mean, I’m the same. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done for everyone else, there’s never anytime for me and when there is it’s always interrupted.”

WHY DO WE DO THIS? Don’t get me wrong, I totally fall into this category a lot but I do try to make a conscious effort to not be like this because it’s something that drives me insane. Negativity breeds negativity and that is only going to make you feel worse. I am hands up a total advocate of talking and moaning every once in a while, after all it’s something us women would all get an A* in and that’s why we aren’t all totally insane because it’s a way to work through things. What I’m really talking about here is how important it is to always try and see the positives in things, I truly believe, no matter what situation you are in, there is always something you can take from it. You may not see it, or want to see it at the time but if you look closely enough, you’ll find it.

I’m going through a patch at the moment where I feel CBT is nonsense and a waste of my time. I seem to be coming across every single bad report or experience people have had about how it doesn’t help ME sufferers, I’m not looking for them, they just find me on the internet.  Therefore this influenced me for a few days with me thinking, see, you’re right Hannah – it’s rubbish. But then I pop my level head on and think about my thoughts and realise that actually it’s not that it isn’t working, it’s just that I’m not giving it my all because I’m scared that it might not work. How ridiculous is that?! It will be a hard slog, it will take time to notice a difference and that’s okay, no one built Rome in a day.

So, over the last week or so I’ve started to consciously think about the positives that have come from the last two years and I have been totally flabbergasted by how many I could come up with. I didn’t honestly think I’d come up with many because I am so aware of how many negatives I’ve taken from it and how it’s impacted my life in a bad way, so to turn it on its head and look at it from a different view has been liberating. If I come up with a positive I can often follow it with something negative because I worry about others i.e. the strain it must put on my family for having me home for so long BUT in this blog I’m not going to mention anything negative…so here goes!

  1. Spending time with my family that I wouldn’t have done before. Being back at home with mum, dad and Jack has been lovely. Going back in time almost to all being round the dinner table chatting, laughing, debating – I can’t explain how much I will treasure that. Little trips out, celebrating birthdays together – I love it. We are so lucky that we are such a close family and although we drive eachother nuts at times, we love eachother and would do anything at any time for one another and that’s very special.
  2. Being at home whilst Jack trained and became a fully fledged teacher. Being able to offer help, advice and support (which mainly was received well!) has been amazing. I would of course have been involved anyway but nowhere near to the extent I’ve been able to and as always, it’s just made me so proud of him.
  3. Being around to watch my friends have babies, getting engaged, moving homes and entering the next stages of their lives; you can’t put a price on that.
  4. Discovering my love of writing. My blog has been a saviour for me and I wouldn’t have discovered that without this situation I find myself in. Writing manuscripts for books and finding out about the publishing world has been so exciting, as cheesy as it sounds, it’s been a dream come true.
  5. Having the time to spend on my other interests like baking and crafts and developing a little business (website to follow soon – eek!). Again, something I’d never have had time for in teaching.
  6. Having time to spend with people I possibly wouldn’t have before and realising just how lucky I am to be surrounded by people who are so talented and are willing to use their talents and time in order to help and support me.
  7. Realising that actually, you really do work to live and not live to work. Many things have been put into perspective for me, the stress and time I put into my job – something I don’t regret because I love teaching and care so much for the children but at times this has been to my own detriment and ultimately, it’s not worth it. Recognising that sometimes you have to put yourself first has been a hard one to get my head around but I’m working on it.
  8. I’ve had a lot of time to think about how society works and how I feel and react to certain aspects of life. I’ve always tried to see things from different perspectives but now that I’ve been in a minority group by not having hair, I’ve been able to see how cruel people can be and in turn it’s made me more empathetic and aware of people’s feelings.
  9. Just because you’re having a bad day doesn’t mean you’ve got a bad life. This has been a revelation for me recently. I’ve had days where I have genuinely convinced myself that I 100% hate my life and hate isn’t a word I’d use lightly. I looked back in my diaries yesterday and I have written this soooo many times. But actually, I don’t. How could I when I’m surrounded by so many wonderful people and can still do so many things? My life has changed dramatically and isn’t what it used to be by any stretch of the imagination but I have to learn that that’s alright. My cousin in Canada came up with such a wonderful idea at the start of the year, to keep a note of something good that had happened every day that made us smile or lifted our spirits and at the end of each month we swap our mini diaries so we can keep up to date with each other’s lives. I have loved it – we are much closer because of it and it really does mean that before you go to sleep you are (hopefully) focused on something good rather than bad.
  10. I’ve discovered audio books and podcasts – small but significant discoveries!
  11. I’ve actually…wait for it…become a bit of a dog person! Mum and dad signing up to Barking Mad was something I was SO nervous about because we’ve never had pets and I have always been wary of dogs but wow – I now understand how incredible pet therapy is. The calming influence they have has made such a difference to me and I miss them when we don’t have one – I haven’t gone so far as picking up poo yet but you never know!
  12. *cheesy point alert* The world we live in is so beautiful. I have always appreciated nature but on a low-level but when you’re stuck inside a lot of the time, you really get the time to look at things. The clouds, the seasons, plants, flowers…I guess I just appreciate it all more and I have loved spending time with Dad being geeks and learning about photography and capturing those things that weren’t necessarily on my radar before.

And there you have it, my positives from my negative – not too shabby if you ask me. I wonder what you would come up with if you spent some time thinking about it. That’s your challenge, next time you see someone and they ask how you are – start with a positive response and move on to the less positive later on, it honestly makes such a difference. And anyway, if you leave the moans and groans until a bit later, chances are the kettle will have boiled and biscuits will be out and we all know a moan and groan is made better with biscuits and a cuppa…or in my case a Ribena!

#hairlesshannah

PS: September is coming round again so get those fun hats back out and let’s raise some more awareness!

Dream a little dream

If you take time to stop and think about how your brain controls everything you do, how it generates your thoughts and how it governs our emotions, thoughts, actions…basically everything we do, it can become quite overwhelming.

I am learning that my brain is quite an interesting little fella! It generates thoughts and worries that I can’t control – it’s like a beast that is refusing to be tamed! However, I am trying and through the help of CBT, I’m sure I will whip it into shape. I have found it so interesting dissecting my thoughts and learning about the influences that impact me and therefore enable my unhelpful thinking patterns. We/I often react to a situation by responding to how it makes me/us feel and that then leads to me/us behaving in certain ways and reacting to it on a physical level i.e. something has made me/us feel stressed so in my case, I can’t sleep and this leads to me feeling fatigued.

So if I try to consciously think about something it might start to change my behaviour, emotions and reactions which will mean that my physical and emotional responses will also change. The way it is described in the book I am reading sums it all up perfectly; The way we think about something will determine how we feel, and the way we feel will often determine what we do.  (‘Overcoming chronic fatigue’ by Mary Burgess.)

It is a really tough thing to unpick. I am keeping an unhelpful though pattern log at the moment where I have to dissect my thoughts. Thinking about the various aspects of that single thought is hard. Seeing things broken down and written in black and white really brings home the truth behind how I’m feeling and how it is impacting me on a daily basis. However, even though it’s a hard process, it is helping me to challenge the way I react and respond to my thoughts/worries. Don’t get me wrong, at the moment it really isn’t changing the way I respond to certain things but it is in the front of my mind and I am noticing how after I have these thoughts, I dissect them a little and challenge them and it helps me to box them up and shelve them rather than dwell as much as I have been.

Our brains are such intricate organs and one that I will never fully understand! Sleep is still a bloody nightmare for me at the moment. I simply cannot fathom how someone who is SO fatigued just can’t sleep. Over the last three weeks the most sleep I’ve had in a 24 hour period of 5.5 hours. I am sticking to my CBT targets and setting an alarm in the day for a maximum 2 hour nap although I could sleep longer – why is that?! Why could I sleep in the day with no issue yet when it comes to night-time, I just can’t get to sleep? And when I do, I will wake up every 30 minutes to an hour and then remain awake for anything up to two hours?! I just don’t understand and although I know so many ME sufferers have this problem – insomnia and painsomnia – I can’t find any research or explanation for it?

I have always been a vivid dreamer – always in colour and I can often wake up remembering them. But over the last few months – really starting when I was taking melatonin – my dreams have become stunningly vivid. I have a least one dream that I wake up from a night that feels like real life and affects me on an emotional and physical level. Some are totally bizarre although I can relate them to something I may have watched on TV or read about but some are quite clearly linked to my subconscious and they are the ones that are having the biggest impact on me. They are so cruel, it’s like my brain is torturing me on yet another level and although the dreams are wonderful to “live” through at the time, they are a flippin’ hateful things to wake up from because I come back down to Earth with an almighty thwack!

I’ll give you some examples! Here are two of my more bizarre dreams of late!

  1. I was the right hand lady to the President of the United States who just happened to be Denzel Washington – I do love that man! He was in terrible danger and I had to defend him Jack Bauer style and I have to say, I was kick ass! The dream ended with him shaking my hand and thanking me and I replied, “It has been an honour Sir.” Ha ha ha I mean, this is obviously a dream concocted by someone who loves ’24’ and would love to be a real life super hero!
  2.  Tom Jones was my friend and he was about to do a concert but had very swiftly been struck with dementia so couldn’t remember any of his song lyrics! Mum was hysterically upset because no-one would ever get to watch the genius of Tom in concert again and the dream ended with me trying to find a cure for dementia.

And then we come onto my more upsetting dreams to wake from!

  1. The marriage dream. I’ve had several dreams where I am either getting ready for my wedding day or living my wedding day. I can never see the face of the man but I just know I can feel how happy I am. The dress, flowers, party – everything – is always beautiful and the happiness overwhelming.
  2. The engagement dream. Again, where I can literally feel how happy I am and how in love and the dream is based around telling people we are engaged and it’s all jolly and wonderful!
  3. The baby dream. I am either pregnant or have a little baby and again, totally in love and totally happy. The most recent and interesting dream linked to this is one I had last week; I was a single mum, pregnant and had consciously decided to use a sperm donor because I hadn’t found the right man but knew I wanted to be a mum! I had a C-Section and had a little girl!

These dreams are tough ones because they are all linked to my real life dreams – I would love to be in a happy relationship and have my own family unit and if any of you know me, I have always wanted to be a mum. These are all things that for now, are way out of my reach and are pipe dreams quite literally. So to wake up feeling so deeply the happiness and love and then realise it isn’t true is hard and it takes me a while to shake it and separate it from my actual reality.

I love a good dream and what I am trying to say here is how powerful our brains are. Even in our sleep they manage to formulate our conscious and sub-conscious thoughts, hopes and wishes and bring them to life. It brings me back to the fact that our brains are equally a part of our body as a leg or arm and need to be cared for in the same way. We may not be able to see the hurt and damage that our brains are dealing with but that doesn’t mean that it’s any lesser than anything else that needs care and attention.

So, as always, remember that not everyone’s demons are visible, they can’t be fixed quickly, people can’t just snap out of it and all they need is a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear and a good old laugh.

Happy Friday everyone.

#hairlesshannah

A very spoonie-fied blog

I’m sorry I’ve been absent for a while – well, almost a month now. There is no real excuse, especially when I know how writing helps me, but I just haven’t had the urge to write, I’ve had a slump and I thought that rather than force out blog posts that I didn’t really believe in, I’d stop. Pause. Take stock and tell myself it’s okay to take a break and come back as and when it felt right.

I am disappointed in myself that the month of May has been the time for this period of nothingness because it’s an important month for ME/CFS. May is ME awareness month as well as awareness for many other hidden illnesses. I’ve watched and followed eagerly how my little spoonie online community have raised awareness and done so much for the cause. Next year I will do more but for this year, all I can offer is this blog post.

I’ll start with a little fun fact; May 12th was Florence Nightingales birthday and it is suggested that she was one of the earliest sufferers of ME.  From 1857 she was often disabled by ill-health and spent much of her time bed bound; she is now considered a kind of patron saint for this under studied illness and this is why May 12th is used as a day for awareness. How about that eh?!

I then thought I would recap the main facts about ME, so I have used the main websites that I find useful and informative to provide you with the following:

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides three levels of severity for ME: mild, moderate and severe. This is how they explain them:

  • People with mild CFS/M.E. are mobile, can care for themselves and can do light domestic tasks with difficulty. Most are still working or in education, but to do this they have probably stopped all leisure and social pursuits. They often take days off, or use the weekend to cope with the rest of the week.
  • People with moderate CFS/M.E. have reduced mobility and are restricted in all activities of daily living, although they may have peaks and troughs in their level of symptoms and ability to do activities. They have usually stopped work, school or college and need rest periods, often sleeping in the afternoon for one or two hours. Their sleep at night is generally poor quality and disturbed.
  • People with severe CFS/M.E. are unable to do any activity for themselves, or can carry out minimal daily tasks only (such as face washing, cleaning teeth). They have severe cognitive difficulties and depend on a wheelchair for mobility. They are often unable to leave the house, or have a severe and prolonged after-effect if they do so. They may also spend most of their time in bed, and are often extremely sensitive to light and noise.

I come under moderate. I won’t go on about my personal experience because I feel I’ve done that enough in previous blogs. However, progress has been made in that the 4-6 month wait for CBT has been destroyed and I have already had my first two sessions. Now, I know there is much debate about the usefulness and effectiveness of CBT for ME patients and I must admit, initially I was wary. But you know what? This is the only thing, the only offer of help I’ve had from the NHS so I am grasping it with both hands. I’ve gone into it with an open mind but also with open eyes. Luckily I made an immediate connection with the therapist and I trust her – both a bonus when you consider all the bad luck I’ve had over the past 20 months! We have set targets together to try to help me with my sleep – not working yet and as she predicted have made things worse before they hopefully get better. I like her because she is honest. There’s no BS, it might work for me, it might not but with everything crossed it could improve on what I live with daily and that’s enough for me thank you very much!

  • ME is a chronic illness which means it is long-lasting with no cure or guaranteed treatment.
  • ME is a physical disorder – having ME is NOT a state of mind and there is real scientific proof for this.

Life with ME has made me reevaluate everything about myself and my life, I guess a life changing illness will do that to you. It’s a terribly lonely illness. Yes I am surrounded daily by my wonderful family and I have constant contact with friends but I don’t have that connection with people anymore. I don’t have work banter, I don’t have social banter or random chats with people you may see when you’re simply out and about. I spend A LOT of time alone, sleeping, thinking…and that is lonely. It’s isolating and it makes daily life tough to face.

Raising awareness of illnesses like ME is so very important. Even doctors don’t know very much about them and patients – including me – often have to educate their GPs and specialists about possible medications, treatments and symptoms. It’s a frustrating situation that can be made easier by more people being educated and therefore having an understanding of what sufferers are living with on a daily basis.

Thank you for reading, thank you for baring with me and thank you for your continued support.

Have a lovely weekend.

#hairlesshannah