Tangled

As a climber there is nothing worse than trying to get set up for a climb and finding your nicely coiled rope has ended up in a tangled mess, it generally happens when you are in a rush or when you aren’t concentrating on what you are doing. Believing I know what I’m doing and can do it in my sleep.

I realised today that parenting is very much like climbing, you see after an evening walk with my 11 year old daughter, slowly she started to tell me how she was feeling, mixed up in the frustrations with her brother and problems at school, there were a number of things that she was worrying about that made me realise that she was in a tangle, small worries become big ones. Misunderstood conversations become dramatic problems. Lack of confidence coupled with these misunderstandings creates an anxious outlook on life.

For example we have been trying to eat healthy and manage what we spend on food, Bekah had taken that as we had no money and was panicking we were going to run out of food. It seems ridiculous as an adult but young minds haven’t learned that ability to take in all the information and process what it means.

I think we are quite good at spending time with our kids, but this has challenged me and has made me think about what I get out of time with them and what they get out of it. Time is such a precious commodity now a days, we are so busy and so rushed, are we actually taking time to really listen to and understand our children’s needs.

Is this why so many children are struggling with anxiety and self confidence issues?

Something I tried a while ago which was very hard, was to sit down with one of your children and ask them to tell you how you were doing as a parent!!

Wow, that was a hard thing to do, to have to listen to a hard hitting evaluation of your parenting.

Maybe I need to do that again.

You see to untangle a mess you have to find your way through all the knots.

I know for me time with kids is really important and the starting point in solving any problem is giving it time. When I’m climbing if I am slow and methodical in my approach, organised in how I uncoil the rope then I am usually in a better place to start climbing. When I try do it on auto-pilot then I am guaranteed to make a mess, tangle my rope and hinder my objective for the day.

Time to consider switching off auto pilot and concentrate on the here and now.

The state of my garage is like the state of my head.

I open the garage door on a daily basis to pull out bikes and equipment, when you are a family of five it is easy fill a small garage, 5 mountain bikes, 2 road bikes, wet suits, buoyancy aids, paddle boards, surf boards bike racks and more bags and boxes of ropes and climbing gear and a ridiculous amount of DIY tools considering I am useless at it.

The problem is things don’t always get put back in the right place or any place and the more I take out the less likely it is to go back in the right place. My wife will tell you that its not just the garage, my side of the bedroom and my car, generally resemble the chaos that is my mind.

My current understanding of what PTSD is, seems to be my brains lack of ability to put memories in the right part of my brain, it is a bit like trying understand where I put my climbing shoes. Apparently for some reason the brain miss files traumatic experiences resulting in parts of the brain being over stimulated and other parts being made redundant.

My growing internal reluctance to tidying my mind, mirrors the same reluctance I have to tidying the garage, I always find it easier to close the door and go and buy the things I am looking for ( don’t tell my wife because she always finds me out when she ends up organising my tools and finds 3 hammers and more screw drivers than anyone man can use).

This isn’t really about my garage, this is about my already growing anxiety of attending my counselling session next Tuesday it is starting to feel like tomorrow.

I know I need to re-arrange the chaos but I already don’t want to open the door.

Finding a Sanctuary

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My first few months off work were hideous, I love to work and I like being around people so not being able to do this was hard, I would go further in saying it was very lonley.

I seemed to spend a lot of time in my car driving round trying to find somewhere I could enjoy walking. My body was fluctuating in energy levels and so just hammering off up mountains wasn’t working.

The Lake district is full of amazing places, I have so many favourite routes in the hills, so many swim spots, but in my current frame of mind they weren’t working.

I started to draw towards Whinlatter forest, its about 25 minutes from home and offers so much variety, for some reason it became a safe place for me, during the week days it is pretty quiet so I can just do my own thing and not really see anybody. The dog loves it (a part from the occasional low flying aircraft’s).

It is a place I can walk, run and mountain bike. You can stay low down and walk short marked trails or you can follow your nose and find some Tolkienesque landscapes with dark tunnels of trees creating and mystery and adventure. You can hit the cafe or take off up the Mountains.

For some reason it has become my Sanctuary, somewhere I feel comfortable, somewhere I feel safe and has allowed me to relax and process my thoughts. At times it allows my let out my anger.

The whole essence of using the outdoors for therapy is about finding what works for you on any given day. It’s somewhere I go alone, it’s somewhere I go with friends or family. It allows time to talk or time to be quiet. Time to take it easy and time to work hard. I haven’t found any where that offers as much variety to meet my needs.

I have found that Mountain biking is a great stress relief the nature of having to do short burst of hard work gets the heart rate up which helps to fire the endorphins, releasing our natural happy pills.

Poppy loves it with a harness on she thinks she is a husky and we can be seen regularly flying through the car park with her in the lead. I think we forgot to tell her she is a gun dog!!

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If your lucky you get some amazing cloud inversions as the sun heats up the low lying clouds.

So here is a challenge, not only continue to set yourself the challenge of getting out, hows about finding your Sanctuary…. Let me know how you get on.

When it rains it pours

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Lake district weather is like a metaphor for life, All 4 seasons in one day.

When I first went on sick leave last September I made a deal with my self, that no matter what the weather I would go out everyday and do something. I had been struggling with my symptoms for sometime, I had constant pain in ligaments throughout my body and my energy levels had hit rock bottom. Truth be told I was never really aware of how much your mental state can affect your physical abilitiy.

I have spoken to many service users over the years and listened to what they had to say, but never really felt what they felt. When someone who is experiencing mental health issues says they have no energy to get out of bed, we automatically think they are being lazy. I ask you…

Walk a mile in their shoes

How they feel may be very different to how you think they should feel.

Realising how much I hurt, and how little energy I had, meant I had to make a choice….

No matter what get outside

Now i’m lucky I have a training partner who won’t let me stay inside, Poppy is a 3 year old Black lab who will tell you she needs hours out every day.

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She is meant to be a gundog but is scared of guns and planes and people and other dogs, she is pretty good but needs a lot of exercise.

Having Poppy is my accountability, no matter the weather, no matter how I feel I have to go out. When I am out it is a distraction from how I feel. I learned to plan my routine based on need not on feelings and it hasn’t let me down yet.

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She is definately walking this Journey with me.

This week I have been mostly learning to Breathe

“Your breathing all wrong”

How in the hell can I be breathing wrong, it is the most natural thing we do, it is the only thing I do without having to think about it.

This is just another task to add to the list of things I can’t do properly, my wife is going to love this one!!!

So apparently breathing isn’t as easy as breathing in and out.

Its just one of the things I missed in my self, but is apparently easily recognised in someone with high anxiety/stress. I breathe short only filling my chest and lungs, missing the full belly breath which is especially practiced in Yoga type exercises ( I wouldn’t know this, as a Yorkshire man yoga is not my cup of tea).

The time it is most noticeable is at night, getting off to sleep is mostly OK but I wake up around 2-3 am with what feels like an Elephant on my chest, my breathing is rapid and short in depth and it takes some real concentration to get it to settle. Apparently this is due to being hyper-vigilant all the time constantly assessing risks after years of working in such a heightened state.

In my job roles over the years one thing was for sure, no day was they same and you never knew what could happen from one minute to the next. One minute you could be de-escalating an aggressive situation the next you could be dealing with an attempted suicide, your body and mind gets used to being constantly aroused. Your body produces high levels of cortisol and all your fight and flight mechanisms are active, trying to come down from these was at times impossible, maybe that is why a stiff drink was quite common post shift.

So here are some tips I was given

Step 1: Get in a comfortable position and close your eyes.

Step 2: Breathe in normally through your nose, and hold it for 3 seconds.

Step 3: Exhale out slowly and smoothly through your mouth.

The key to this technique is exhaling all of the air out of your lungs very slowly. 

Concentrate on taking breaths right down to your stomach, or “belly breathing.” To help you do this, place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. If you are doing the exercise correctly, only the hand on your stomach will rise and fall as you inhale and exhale.

Set aside three times each day to practice.

Practice the breathing retraining for at least 5–10 minutes each time.

Great tips from – https://www.oxfordclinicalpsych.com

In practice this is hard I try to set about five minutes laying on the floor, I put on some quiet music and give it a go. Five minutes feels like a long time, so keep practicing.

I have roped in my middle and youngest children to take part, as we know children are needing help to build up skills to help with increased stresses at school. I like this time as Aron our Youngest has been struggled with nervousness at school and will come into my room on a morning and tell me he is feeling sick most days. Interestingly he really struggles with this exercise, which encourages me to do it more.

As the Title says, a throw back from the Fast show – This week (and next week and the one after) I will mostly be learning to breathe.

Take time to give it a go and let me know how you get on.

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How the hell did I end up here?

Today I found myself sat in a small room facing a stranger feeling like I’m in someone else’s body, not for the first time in the last 9 months, trying to hold back tears in front of someone I don’t know. But that is a barrier I’m not ready to let go of. Showing weakness doesn’t feel like an option.

I’m just hoping in someway I will be swallowed up by a worm hole, because if she presses into that wound again, I’m going to explode. My head is woozy and I am feeling sick.

But that wound isn’t visible no one can see it. People may even doubt it’s there.

How the hell did I end up here!!!

You see I shouldn’t be here; I should be sat on the other side of the room. As a Mental health nurse its my job to poke and prod, my job to assess and problem solve, my job to be the strong one with all the answers!!

What went wrong?

The experiences seemed to merge over the years, secure intensive care wards, acute admission wards, Community Mental health, Crisis Teams, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and finally Children’s safeguarding. There were strong themes that flowed through each role, violence, aggression, self-harm, suicide, risk, responsibility. All these themes have an impact, facing violence daily creates a level of anxiety which can be mistaken for adrenaline, a heightened state of awareness which doesn’t just stop at the door when you leave work to go home to your family. Pile on that the responsibility of assessing people who have reached their limit, or managing a ward full of very unwell service users carrying levels of stress and responsibility that push every ounce of your emotional resilience.

There is something verging on addiction about working at the limit of what you can handle, it is also a job that is humbling and a privilege to sit with someone and help them problem solve a way out of their situation. But there is a cost!!

For me it started with panic attacks, increased anxiety about holding responsibility for assessments. It moved on to feeling isolated and lonely even in a room full of people, this snowballed out of control to the point where every referral I read was like a hand grenade exploding inside me, I felt like I was in a fox hole curled up in a ball, feeling the impact of every explosion through to my core. I wish it ended there but I began having flash backs of events from years gone by, not just images but feelings and sensations as if I was there, running down corridors through sticky blood, hoping someone hadn’t been killed.

How the hell did I end up here?

I reached the point that enough was enough I couldn’t cope any longer, But I didn’t know how to ask for help!! Even after all the years of giving space for people to share where they were at, when it came down to it, I felt so isolated and so unable to share how big the hole I had crawled into was.

When I eventually asked for help, it didn’t come.

All I can say is it has taken some fighting, as a clinician working for the NHS it has been a battle to get assessed and engage in treatment. Which just shouldn’t be the case.

After 6 months of pushing I got an assessment and was Diagnosed with PTSD due to working in environments that have exposure to persistent traumatic events.

At least I now know why nothing has improved, why I feel the way I do; I have tried everything I know and nothing works. Maybe it does, I just don’t feel the improvements. All I can describe is waves of emotion, like a wave hitting a ship and having to hold on so I don’t get washed away, many times wanting to quit but knowing that isn’t the answer. Not allowing myself to make excuses and just getting my trainers on and hitting the local trails, walking helps a bit, swimming in cold water, hitting a punch bag, they are all better than hiding away. I used to look at people walking round with hoodies over their heads and earphones in and thinking they were hiding from life, but now that’s me not wanting to face the world, struggling to return to normality.

I am in reality only at the beginning, recovery is a process, I have no idea yet whether I can ever walk back through the doors at work. I hope so as it will show I am moving forward but that is yet to be seen. For now, I am trying to enjoy what I have in front of me which is my family and the things that I love which are the mountains and the oceans, finding every way I can to help me restore what I have lost.

I am fortunate to have a supportive manager and team, allowing me time and space to work this process through.

This blog is my way of sharing my thoughts, experiences, victory’s and failures.