I know I promised to share the tips and tricks I am trying to get Oscar to eat good food but he is very sick this week so all bets are off in that department. Usually when he gets sick its nil by mouth except maybe milk, ice cream and yoghurt. So, until he is recovered I thought today would be a good day to revisit my 'R U OK' blog from last year.
Those of you who followed my blog a year ago may have read my story about Post Traumatic Stress and I have had several people tell me that this helped them to identify their own need for some help with recovering from a stressful event or situation in their lives. I always intended to follow up that story with some tips on things that helped me recover from the stress we went through with Oscar's treatment but never got around to it (due, in a large part, to the fact that I was busy figuring out how to recover myself and complicated by the fact that Pete fell through a ceiling).(Pete is ok now, by the way).
So, deep breath, here I will try to articulate how I have managed to improve my mental health even if I may not have totally chased down the shadow that sometimes haunts me. That shadow is really just an anxiety that is brought on by the fact that I know only too well that life can change in an instant and that the ground we stand on is not as solid as we think. That being said, there are many great opportunities provided by the shifting sand that it turns out we are all travelling upon.
Its tricky for me to unpack this as its still very much a process but here are some things that I know for sure did help me:
1. A good GP who can guide you in the right direction (big thanks to my cousin for referral here). Keep an open mind about perhaps needing some medication to help you along if your GP suggests it and make sure you trust their expertise.
2. A good psychologist if your GP recommends it and you feel that talking will help. It certainly helped me realise that I was suffering from PTSD and gave me some simple strategies for coping with it, which in turn made me be a little less hard on myself about the overwhelming emotions that I was experiencing. It helps to have an understanding of the physical facts - like how your limbic system is all fired up from the stress and how you need to try to rewire your neural pathways. There is a real science that can give you real words for the very overwhelming responses you find yourself making to every day normal situations.
3. Exercise - this was the single biggest factor for my improvement. It was something I had control over (after having had no control over my situation or the situation of my loved ones for too long) and it was a concrete practical thing I could do. If you put the work into exercise you get the results back (unlike anything to do with the cancer journey where you do everything the Dr's tell you and they still can't tell you anything concrete about your chances of recovery). Also, it helped me build up some confidence in myself. All that time in hospital focused on Oscar's needs and then Auden's needs and absolutely forgetting myself completely had an impact on my confidence to even think of myself as a separate person with any needs. Exercise taught me I could commit to something for myself, that I valued myself and that I could get out some of my more challenging emotional energies such as frustration and anger by exhausting myself. Finally, and probably most importantly, there is again real science indicating that exercise improves the biological and hormonal factors that contribute to anxiety and depression.
4. Good friends who treat you the same and support you unconditionally. (no need to explain this one)
5. Creating new memories - I have written a blog about this before so I'll just say embracing good health and happiness by sharing precious time together with your family and friends creating new memories really helps the brain to calm down and learn to trust again.
This is just the tip of a very large individual ice burg and no doubt there are many other ways of recovering from PTSD. Yoga and meditation are also very helpful - I have been doing yoga for 13 years though and for the first time ever I couldn't do it for a while after Oscar's treatment finished. I was too fired up and the adrenalin charging around my body could not sit still with a yoga class without bringing on a panic attack. So, very strangely for me, I found myself at the gym working out and pushing myself very hard with weights and cardio just to get that excess energy out of my body. Either way, the most important thing is to keep trying new things to find what works for you. I had to discard who I was (or who I thought I was perhaps) to find what worked for this new me and it took time. Ultimately, time is probably the greatest healer of them all.
I hope you are OK today, wherever you are and whatever limitations you may be experiencing. Thanks for checking in on us and I am sending light and love to you and all your families. Be kind to yourself. Go gently. Much love, Cindy x