To the NHS nurse who held my hand

When I was 17 years old I had a Cancer scare. The ultimate outcome was that I was far too young to go through invasive screening and that they were certain I was fine. This unfortunately led to a series of health related anxieties, doctors visits and serious hypochondria. When I say the word “hypochondria’ I’m sure many people envisage a germaphobe or a comedy sketch with Dr Google sentencing me to death. It is and was, however, a serious and debilitating form of health anxiety which affects me in profound ways. I’m sure many will think that it’s such a privileged standpoint, to be worrying about these illnesses and never actually have them. But it really is rough, intrusive and overwhelming. I’ve written a more specific post about Hypochondria and you can find it here.

In May 2017 at age 24, the symptoms that I had gotten at age 17 came back. Without going into too much detail, I ended up getting a procedure done to screen for Cancer. This was the ‘invasive’ screening that the doctors in my teens had told me I was too young to go through, and good grief were they right. Let’s just say it involved a needle and an ultrasound machine.

When I got to the screening clinic I had no idea that I would end up getting this procedure. I was greeted by two lovely smiling receptionists and sat down in the reception amongst the rest of the people waiting. I was called through to a doctors office and I remember it being oddly dark in there. I’m sure there’s a technical or medical reason for it but it made the experience extra trippy. For the life of me I can’t remember the Doctor’s name. I only remember that she looked like Charlotte Rampling and that she was a little bit scary (though I expect anyone holding a needle with the intention of stabbing you with it is terrifying).

What I do remember though, was Louise. Louise was the nurse that called me into the room and stayed with me the whole time. I remembered her name because she was like my guardian angel that day. Thank the stars for her. When it all started she held my hand as if I was her own daughter, and I just kept wondering how many hands she’d held before.

As I looked at the details of one particular ceiling tile I realised my feet were freezing cold. I had my running shoes on and I remember looking down at them, desperately to put the thoughts of illness and disease and infection out of my mind, and to quiet the voices asking ‘did she sterilise that needle?’ and ‘what if she finds something?’. On the other side of the room I could see my boyfriend who was told he had to stay on the other side of the half drawn curtain. There was a piece of fluff hanging from the ceiling vent and I stared at it… and stared and stared.

When the procedure started the Doctor said ‘You poor girl’, and I just kept holding Louise’s hand. And Louise was there. She didn’t know that I was already envisaging my own funeral, or picturing my immune system being set upon by bacteria shaped monsters. But Louise was there and she made everything seem okay, because she’s a bloody good nurse. When it was all finished Louise took us out of the room and asked me how I felt, I said ‘tired’ and she said ‘me too’, she was definitely more tired than me. I went home, ate monster much and watched Lilo and Stitch.

For the first time in a long time, I couldn’t obsess about an invisible illness or an itch or a dirty hand rail on the tube, I had finally seen what I had been terrified about for so long, and it was smaller than an MnM. The fears of death and illness were suddenly replaced with rationality and planning calmly for the various scenarios that might surface.

When it all came through clear, I was relieved, but I also felt silly, and thankful, and blessed that we have a National Health Service in this country with hundreds of thousands of of Louises.

The NHS is immeasurable, irreplaceable and essential. But it’s slowly being driven to the point of total breakdown. Louise does a job that I could never do, she sees people through their most vulnerable times with a smile and profound strength. I have friends who are nurses, I have a boyfriend who’s training to be a doctor, these people are amazing and I honestly couldn’t imagine having to do what they do. The NHS has been incredible to me. It works, and it works hard.

I hope we can continue to spread our stories and share our gratitude towards the NHS staff who have held our hands, saved our lives, helped us through illness and fought for us. In a world full of hatred, selfishness and fear… I think we should all strive to be a little more ‘Louise’.

Why ‘giving up’ isn’t always a bad thing

We live in a society in which many of our life choices are labelled as us ‘giving up’. For example, when we hear that someone has stopped pursuing a lifelong dream, or maybe moved back into their parents home, we feel like they’ve lost out on something. We might even feel a sense of sadness and pity, and the cruellest among us might even label that person a failure. “They must be devastated”, we say. But the thing is, we can’t assume that when someone takes a turn, chooses a different path, or takes a step back, that they are ‘giving up’.

What you envisage as ‘giving up’ might be another persons life defining choice. Perhaps someone quit a high paying job in London to return home and start a non-profit organisation, perhaps a seasoned west end actress decided she wants to quit the industry to become a historian, or maybe a university student decided to leave education to start up a cosmetics company. Without knowing the full context we might see a failed business man, a washed up actress and a college drop out, but we don’t see the full picture of their decisions nor the reaping of their eventual rewards. Perhaps these people ‘gave up’ on their situations because they were unhappy, exhausted, or struggling to cope.

I always found it cruel when I heard people talking about how their friends and acquaintances had ‘given up’. Some people even take this stance when it comes to complete strangers. They say stuff like, “He’s let himself go” and ‘Wow, she could have really been something if only she hadn’t given up” etc.. etc.. and so forth. The thing is, even when we think a goal or a dream is truly worth the struggle, we don’t know how soul-crushing, life-altering and embittering that journey can be until we’re on it.

People very rarely ‘quit’ or ‘give up’ on things that make them truly happy, relaxed, content and fulfilled. Perhaps for a time they felt that way and things changed, or they were trying to fight and fight for something that made their life miserable. I know of many people who have gone through struggle after struggle and finally realised that the illustrious and almost impossible end point of their ‘dream’ isn’t even what they want anymore. It’s good to fight for things we know will end up right, to strive to see things and do things we want to do, but if the expense of all this is loneliness, bitterness and burn out, we have to decide ourselves whether it’s worth it. Unless you are significantly hurting yourself or somebody else in a profound and drastic way, you have every right to say ‘enough is enough’. The wonderful thing is that ‘giving up’ can actually lead to countless opportunities and possibilities.

It takes a lot for someone to give up on a dream, and it’s harsh of us to belittle their decision and assume that they’ve failed. I think that sometimes, it takes ‘giving up’ to understand what you really want. This doesn’t mean that the journey towards your goal served no purpose, nor that you won’t someday return to the same path. It just means you might find your way there via a new route, or a different mode of transport. Maybe you’ll take someone else with you this time, or you’ll be more cautious along the way. Life is a series of choices and events, and you should never feel judged for ‘giving up’ on something that makes you feel anything less than wonderful.

Anxiety: Four Areas of Perspective

I’ve not written a blog for a long old time. I’ve written posts and kept them safe and sound in the drafts folder; I’ve jotted down poems and penned notes in early morning delirium, but nothing has quite come together to form one coherent post. So this time I commit to writing this with a clear head and a calm heart, and posting it without hesitation.

I was recently diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which to me was simply the official term for something I have been experiencing since childhood. As an incredibly introverted Anxiety Sufferer, my mind serves as both a sanctuary and a carnival hall of mirrors. Through a life of ups and downs, doctors visits, deep conversations, painful bodily sensations and the occasional mind earthquake, I like to think I have learned a fair amount myself. The most important lesson I have learned throughout this time, however, is that many of the steps I have taken to help  stem from the power of perspective. Perspective is perhaps an umbrella term, covering a multitude of things such as mindfulness, awareness, reflection, hope and gratitude. Perspective is not only what shapes the way I see the world, but it is also what allows me to observe myself in a deeper way. Last summer I went through a health scare which brought on a myriad of triggers for my anxiety. During this time I was forced to commit to taking care of myself. I wrote this, wrapped tightly in a blanket and sitting on the sofa, right in the grip of anxiety:

“When going through a hard time there are few things more helpful than Nina Simone, Otis Redding, home made chocolate cake, white tulips, lush bath bombs, Yankee candles and funny YouTube videos. I just watched the most ‘so bad it’s good’ film on Netflix called Monte Carlo, and it made me feel a little better.”

It was almost as if I was in safe mode. Have you ever had your computer crash? Usually when you do, it comes up with the option to boot up in safe mode; everything is simpler, less confusing, safe. I had to turn down the volume, and that’s exactly what I did. In this particular post, I want to share with you a list of the four main aspects of perspective, which helped me through that time, and continue to guide me through the twists and turns that Anxiety can cause. I like to think of them as ways to better my peace of mind, live reflectively, learn, grow and improve my inner strength and awareness. Anxiety is a struggle, it is difficult and it is different for every single person who experiences it. This list is simply my personal treasure chest, into which I often delve in times of intense strain and struggle, but also in times of joy and peace. Whether or not these things help you, please know and trust that you are deeply loved and that you are never alone in your journey; we all walk with you.

1. Observe

Observing your own thoughts and physical sensations is one of the most tried and tested methods of relaxation, this is also more commonly referred to as mindfulness and/or meditation. Mindfulness is a huge part of observing, and one of the best things I ever did for myself was download the Calm App. This app is a wonderful tool. You can listen to guided meditation, soothing music and wonderful sleep stories, which are a particular favourite of mine and can help with the insomnia that Anxiety can often induce. The app can be used on your phone, tablet or even computer and is available here: https://www.calm.com/

The other aspect of observation is looking outside of ourselves at the world around us. Through times of stress, I believe that quietly observing nature can be extremely helpful. I like to observe anything from wide sprawling landscapes to small intricate details:

The first of these images is aptly taken from a lake hide. It is a place to observe the nature around you without being seen, a place to simply look and listen, I believe this is a wonderful symbol. The second is a picture of a large red damsel fly, which flew onto my knee and just sat contently for about 5 minutes. This was one very special and calming experience. In both cases, I was actively observing what was happening around me and to me, and simply taking in the beauty of the situation, as well as a whole lot of fresh air!

For me, the countryside is a particularly calming place, but everyone has their own preference. Perhaps you enjoy people watching, or looking at the city lights at dusk. Whatever it is you enjoy watching, do it. Consider the details, the stories and the origins of what you are looking at. Try to listen to and accept the noises, the smells and the atmosphere around you. I find that this is a useful strategy for staying calm during times where you are unable to look within yourself for comfort. As someone who lives in a big city, I am well aware of the stress that can be brought on by commuting around the city and the unrelenting hustle and bustle. In these times, I try to accept what is around me, and look for the positive sights. It could be as simple as a cat strolling down the street, or a brightly coloured front door.

2. Do

Another useful Perspective I have frequently called upon is the use of ‘Doing’. This could be anything from physically doing things to being creatively and intellectually engaged.

The two physical activities I personally find the most helpful for soothing of Anxiety are walking and practising Yoga. I am not an athlete, I still have flashbacks of the middle school bleep test (if you’ve not heard of this save yourself and don’t look it up, it’s the stuff of nightmares). However, I really enjoy practising yoga. Finding an exercise you enjoy can be a really important tool for combating anxiety as it allows you to actively observe your body in an incredibly healthy way. I believe Yoga is the perfect exercise for Anxiety sufferers, not only because it has strong ties to meditation and mindful practise, but also because it is an exercise you can do in your own home. I practise yoga right from my living room by watching this wonderful woman:

Her practise relies heavily on self belief, free breathing and being kind to yourself, and she has several videos related to combating stress, anxiety and nerves specifically.

The other aspect of ‘Doing’ relates to the stimulation of the mind. This aspect of Perspective is something that helped me tremendously. The main outlets I began to use were cooking and baking, writing, and colouring:

These are a few of my little creations. I found that actually making things with my bare hands was a welcome channel for my mind, and allowed me to focus on something physical that I enjoy and is aesthetically pleasing. With each creation I felt like I had accomplished something, however small. With cooking, especially, I found that making a meal for myself and my boyfriend was really rewarding and therapeutic. Admittedly, for many people cooking is more of a source for stress than it is therapy, but there are a countless other pleasurable ways to stimulate the mind and the imagination in a constructive way, things like writing stories, doodling, gardening, pottery, carpentry, learning to knit or make origami animals, or even something as simple as buying some freshly cut flowers and trimming them before putting them on display. It’s about finding what makes you feel calm, but stimulated.

3. Rest

This is very much the most self-care centred aspect of Perspective. Rest is primarily about giving yourself the space to deal with the physical and mental sensations that your Anxiety is causing. It is about allowing yourself the opportunity to do things you enjoy; perceiving the things in your life which make you happy; and seeking out the time to do them. These should be activities that make you content and calm; things that allow your perspective to shift into a calm state in which you are simply resting and allowing yourself to heal. Rest is the balm that anxiety so desperately needs. It is the breath of fresh air and the calm after the storm. An important aspect of rest is also literal sleep, and this is often something which can shape our perspective of the next morning. When I was having trouble sleeping through a particularly stressful bout of anxiety and worry, I decided to purchase a body lotion from Lush called ‘Sleepy’. I’m sure a lot of you will already of heard of this product, and I want to assure you that is simply amazing. I use it for migraines, getting to sleep, and general times of stress in which I need a soothing and calming smell:

We all relax and rest in different ways. I like to eat tiramisu, take long baths, see my family, watch Steven Universe and listen to audio books. For you it might be a different list. I truly believe this aspect of perspective is one that everyone should observe. Taking time for yourself, even in the smallest ways, is always important. As you grow and change the list will get longer, and perhaps at certain times the amount of time you are able to give to yourself may change too, but please look after yourself, please rest.

4. Reflect

Reflection is perhaps one of the most important Perspectives. Reflection is about considering and in some cases documenting the way you feel. At times this will be about documenting how your anxiety is affecting you, what physical sensations you feel, what made you feel better, why you feel this way. At other times, and hopefully more frequently, your reflections on life will be filled with wonderful memories and times in which you felt good, calm, relaxed, brave, proud, happy or all of the above! It is important not to dwell on reflection, but to use when you need or want to, and when it will serve you well. Reflection can be harnessed through writing and journaling, speaking to loved ones or trained professionals, and also artistic outlets like photography and art.

I have personally used all of these methods to observe the way in which I am feeling and the sensations I am experiencing. As well as being a useful outlet for inner thoughts and feelings, it is also helpful and insightful to look back at these musings and see how far you have come since those moments. For me personally, reflection allows me to feel a great deal of gratitude, which is a precious thing indeed. Reflection is an important tool that has helped me grow and develop not only as someone with Anxiety but also as a human being.

I hope that this post has been of some use to those who have come upon it. Whether you have Anxiety or just want to feel a little more at peace with the world and yourself, I hope this list will help you to become aware, observant, reflective and content with the world around you.

It’s all about perspective.