Category Archives: Anxiety

This is What Anxiety Feels Like

Many people feel anxious, but what does an Anxiety Disorder feel like?

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I’ve suffered with an anxiety disorder since I was a child, and for many years I just thought I was a worrier, and I always felt there was a derogatory association with being a worrier.

Many people believe you need to have reasons to be anxious.

We all suffer anxiety: going into an exam, taking your driving test, being late for work, when you’re about to give a presentation, travelling, and more. You get that flutter of worry in your belly, nausea, light-headedness, fear of the unknown, fear of failure… but the difference between GAD, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and situational anxiety is that those symptoms and emotions go away. You know that your exam will be over in a few hours, your driving test will be complete, you’ll get to work, that presentation will be finished, you will have reached your destination and the worry will be over, and you will move on. The reason for your anxiety will be resolved.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder does not give you that luxury.

Imagine those symptoms continuing for the rest of the day, the week, the month…

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© Lisa Shambrook

I’ve learned a lot about my anxiety. I’m on antidepressants and my anxiety has been much lower, but I recently mentioned to my husband that I was feeling anxious again. Now, he’s incredibly supportive and very understanding, but to someone who has never experienced depression or severe anxiety it’s a difficult condition to comprehend. I tried to explain that there were several things on the horizon worrying me, but there’s more to anxiety than that.

There doesn’t have to be a reason.

I tried to explain what anxiety felt like.

It’s like you are treading water with no land in sight. This is what anxiety feels like.

You believe you will drown. This is what anxiety feels like.

Now, common sense tells you that a log might float by and you could grab it, or a boat might sail past and rescue you, or a lifebelt might appear – but as your brain puts those ideas out there, it also brings in a rolling fog. Now you’re treading water in fog and you can’t see anything. This is what anxiety feels like.

That log will float right by, that boat will sail right past, and that lifebelt is out of reach. Pretty quickly, as anxiety heightens, the waves about you grow and you’re treading water in fog and ten foot waves. This is what anxiety feels like.

That log is about to tip off the wave above you and knock you out. The boat is off course and will never find you, and that lifebelt, well, it’s gone. This is what anxiety feels like.

To top it all, beneath you a whirlpool whips up, you can’t breathe, you can’t keep your head above water, you’re getting pulled under, and you will drown. This is what anxiety and a panic attack feels like.

Anxiety removes the common sense option. Anxiety tells you you’re going to drown and your mind cannot get past that.

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© Lisa Shambrook

Depression is often referred to as the Black Dog, and you can’t command the black dog to return to its kennel, instead it jumps at you and hangs about your neck, or it pulls you down and holds you in a half-nelson. Anxiety is a Boa Constrictor. It’s a snake that coils about your legs and works its way up your body, squeezing and coiling tighter – and it doesn’t let go.

If you’ve never experienced long term anxiety it’s very difficult to understand.

Sarah Fader started a hashtag a week or so ago on Twitter @AnxietyHashtag and people began sharing #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike Find out more in these articles: Huffpost and Psychcology Today.

Sarah has opened a floodgate of understanding and validation for those with anxiety, and I asked her how she came up with the hashtag:

‘I started the hashtag because I was feeling anxious about not hearing back when I texted a friend. That thought resonated with people on Twitter and I wanted to give them a chance to articulate what anxiety felt like to them.’

-Sarah Fader CEO and Founder Stigma Fighters www.stigmafighters.com

It is liberating. Firstly, we know we’re not alone, and secondly, it offers an insight into what life is like with an anxiety disorder.

understanding-self-harm-the-last-krystallosJust a few examples… Severe anxiety is exhausting to live with, both for the sufferer and their family.

I’m working with my therapist to find ways to deal with my anxiety, and I’m currently using ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I’m finding the more I accept and acknowledge my anxiety, the more power I have over it. Learning to recognise and use this will take time and effort, and anxiety is likely to always be part of my life.

Take time to understand the debilitating nature of this condition and use patience and compassion when we need it.  

Validation is the first step to helping someone recognise and cope with their anxiety.

How do you manage and what helps you when you feel overwhelmed and lost?

The Practicalities and Fragilities of Death…

Death is a strange thing and people react to it in many different ways.
This post isn’t about grief it’s about the more practical aspects of death.

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My mother passed away three days before Christmas and though I’ve dealt with bereavement before, I’ve never had to deal with it in such a hands-on way.

I knew my mother was dying – it was expected, yet unexpected. There had been no time frame. She’d survived breast and secondary breast cancer for over twelve years, until pneumonia and Alzheimer’s took her. My father’s devastation was hard to bear, and when it came to dealing with death – he couldn’t.

We were there during those bitter-sweet moments that she took her last breaths, and as I hugged Dad I knew I’d be dealing with the arrangements. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to, I would have done anything to make this loss easier for my father, but making arrangements for the death of a loved one is tough.

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© Lisa Shambrook

I didn’t know where to start. Who does? Life is about living, not dying, and death – and what comes with it – is very much avoided in general day-to-day life.

The practicalities put you into an auto-pilot mode, and can sometimes dilute your grief. There are things that have to be done and I was very grateful for the sensitive help and administration from my local hospital. The ambulance crew, nurses and doctors were considerate and caring and kept us informed and looked after. We knew this was a one-way trip, and my father would be leaving without his beloved wife.

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© Lisa Shambrook

Our local Health Authority produced a booklet Bereavement Information for Relatives and Friends (The government have a What To Do After Someone Dies site) and it helped us make sense of what was to come. The following day we contacted the hospital’s Bereavement Officer, no, I didn’t know that was a job, but I am very glad it is. He was wonderful, making sure we knew exactly what needed to be done. It was Christmas, and the holiday season was about to start the next day, but he made sure the medical certificate and coroner’s report were hurried through and he made us an appointment to register her death and get her death certificate before each of the offices closed for Christmas. It was good for us to have these technicalities out of the way so early.

The Registrar was lovely, making sure we were comfortable and informed, and he was gentle and calm despite the raging torrential rain storm outside rattling the windows. Carmarthen also had access to the valuable Tell Us Once service, which informs all the government agencies of the death at once, so you have less people to inform.

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© Lisa Shambrook

We had also called a trusted local Funeral Director and met him that afternoon. So many commercials on television claim you need to spend a small fortune on a funeral, upwards of £7k, but that’s not necessarily true. You can arrange a service to fit your needs and budget, though I won’t lie, it’s still an expense most us will agree is very costly. Council fees for a burial plot are about £1,000, but you can arrange the rest of the funeral to your budget.

You can have a direct burial or cremation without a service for about £1,000 – £1,500 and you can add to that any extra you wish.  There are several sites that can give you advice which you can find with this article from ITV’s Tonight Funerals: A Costly Undertaking?

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© Lisa Shambrook

I, and two lovely friends from church, dressed my mother’s body before my father offered his last respects, and it was a privilege to do so. It’s difficult to see your parent’s empty body, and not everybody will have the chance or choice to do this – we did in accordance to burial rites within our religion, but it’s a sure testimony to our loved ones having moved on and left this mortality.

My parents wanted simplicity from coffins to flowers, and we had a memorial service at the church we belong to without cost. We made it beautiful with words, simple white flowers and red roses, and love. Our Funeral Director, Peris Rice, was informative and accommodating, and Mum’s service, and then burial in the cold January rain, just before her 74th birthday, was beautiful and poignant.

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© Lisa Shambrook

The whole process has left me with grief, relief, and a deep desire to be sure that I have talked about and thought about what I want in the event of my own demise.

We weren’t sure what Mum actually wanted, and I was floundering with putting together a service, then Dad phoned. He’d been clearing pieces of paper and notes from a box on the coffee table beside where Mum sat, and had come across a piece of paper. On it was a list entitled Hymns for my Funeral, and she had listed about fourteen hymns, numbering four of them. Beneath that list was a poem Death Is Nothing At All by Henry Scott Holland. I gave thanks, because we finally knew what hymns to choose and which poem my sister could read and they were perfect. The hymns we didn’t sing during the service became prelude and closing music, and they all spoke of Mum.

In the end I offered a eulogy inspired by photographs of my mother from her childhood right up to the present, which gave an insight into her life and what she loved, Jules read the poem which spoke exactly what I knew Mum would have said, and a dear friend spoke about Mum and our spiritual beliefs. I hope it was what she would have chosen.

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© Lisa Shambrook

I have moved away from this experience with the need to make any future plans my husband or children might have to put in place as easy as possible. We are all going to die. I don’t fear death, but I do have wishes and desires I would love to accompany my flight from this earth.

Neither of my parents had wills, and Dad now understands the importance of making one. We are now facing looking at Probate, and are discussing Lasting Power of Attorney, and Wills…and I want all these things sorted out, not only for him, but also for myself and my family in my own mind and on paper too. We need to talk about what we want – from services, coffins, wills, music, organ donation, religious rites, finances, do-not-resuscitate forms, living wills, and anything else that might be, for some, uncomfortable to discuss.

I want my views known to my family, not only about decisions made when I die but decisions that will affect my life. I want us to talk about care as I get older, what I want in the event of Alzheimer’s or cancer, or any other life changing/threatening disease. I want them to feel loved and not burdened, and I want to be sure I continue and leave this life with grace and dignity.   

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© Lisa Shambrook

My views on remembering the dead are a little different from the norm. I would very much like to keep it simple and quiet, perhaps even without a church service. I wish for flowers to be gathered from the season and tied simply with string and left wherever my ashes are strewn, and a poem, or reading, or memories are shared, by woods or a river among nature that I love so much, with my family and loved ones.  

How do you feel?

Is death a taboo subject or have you made your wishes known?

What are your thoughts on the fragility of death?

How to Keep Calm and Carry On – During Times of Stress and Anxiety

Lately, especially lately, the world seems to be bursting at the seams with stress.
Life is fast-paced, aggressive, selfish, and anxious…and
we have to try and stay calm when everything about us appears to be falling apart.

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World events, local events, and even familial situations are rarely under our own control and we can feel like we’re drowning, so how can you take control and remain calm under pressure?

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© Lisa Shambrook

Mindfulness and Meditation: I am only just beginning to learn about each of these. Both offer techniques to centre yourself. I used to think I could never try meditation because I had no idea how to empty my mind, but I have learned that meditation is more about harnessing your thoughts, bringing them back to you, and accepting who you are. When my thoughts wander during meditation, as they will, I can recognise that they are and refocus, bringing myself back, focussing on my breathing and my presence.

I am learning that knowing myself and loving myself helps me immensely to remain a calmer person. It also helps that my daughter has been studying Buddhism which has some beautiful teachings. My favourite was something she told me from a Buddhist friend:
Imagine yourself as a mountain and your thoughts as clouds, let them drift by…

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© Lisa Shambrook

Anchoring: I have used anchoring for many years without really understanding it. Generally using an anchoring technique means to recall a time in your life when you were calm, in control, and happy, and focus on that moment, and combine it with a physical sensation like pinching your thumb and forefinger together. Then when you feel stressed, if you recreate that physical sensation by pinching your thumb and forefinger together you will recall the moment you felt in control and calm, thus restoring a sense of peace.

I have a stim/totem that I clasp and smooth between my fingers when I feel anxious and it helps to calm me. I’ve carried acorn cups and hazelnut halves about with me for years and years, they reside in all my pockets, and I have a compulsion to collect them when I’m out and about… Being able to channel a memory of a happy time and combine it with this action/stim is anchoring, and it really helps!

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© Lisa Shambrook

Go for a Walk: Take time out, remove yourself from the place of stress, get outside and into nature – all good advice to help you stay sane. I find nature a hugely calming influence, and it gives you space, both literally and figuratively. I’ve written before about harnessing Nature’s Antidepressants and it’s true that the natural environment can inspire and calm you. And remember it’s free, so, get out there and take your fill…

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© Lisa Shambrook

Gain a different perspective: When you’re stressed, anxious, or panicked, try and analyse how you’re looking at your situation. I tend to worry and dwell on the ‘what ifs’, my husband can embrace change and looks at the positives. If you are a negative thinker, then switch perspectives. Ask yourself if you can change anything about your position, if there is, do it, if not then you need to accept the circumstances.

We need to understand the idea behind the Prayer of Serenity: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Some things are out of our control and we cannot change them we just have to go through them, but some we can, and we need to embrace the times we can change and take control of our destinies.

It’s important to note that we do have to go through many things we cannot change, and we should do that with courage and, hopefully, positivity. The most damaging advice I ever had was to visualise my problems and if I couldn’t change them then put them in an imaginary box and close the lid. It doesn’t work, and eventually you’ll end up with an imaginary cupboard full of boxes of things you’ve never been able to face. If you have these boxes, and cannot face opening them, ask for help. There are many therapies and counselling that can help you confront your deep held demons.

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© Bekah Shambrook

Calm your Environment: These days decluttering is a definite word in our dictionaries. The things within our homes can help define our moods. Now, I quite like mess to a degree, I’m creative and like bits and pieces everywhere, but it can go too far. I don’t like to be surrounded by rubbish or negativity. Too much clutter can distract me and bring me down. I have to go through stages of clearing out and decluttering at regular points in my life. I usually use the adage if it doesn’t hold a memory, or make me happy, or I haven’t used or looked for it in two years, then it can go. Except books…I struggle to let books go! Spring cleaning, at any time of the year, can be cathartic and cleansing, and help you create a healthy environment.  

Add beauty to your home, pictures that you love, candles scented with the fragrances that inspire you, flowers, anything that you love. Make your home your sanctuary.

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© Lisa Shambrook

Affirmation: The more you repeat something the more the unconscious mind accepts it, and this goes for both positive and negative intonations, so embrace the positives. Tell yourself something that makes you anxious or stressed will be fun, that you’ll enjoy it, and the chances are that you can alter your perspective!

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© Lisa Shambrook

Let off Steam: Sometimes when we’re stressed we just need to let loose, to release the tension and the pressure. Adrenalin often accompanies stress and anxiety and sometimes you need to ‘run that off’ to coin a phrase. Stamp around the house, yell a bit, get outside and exercise. Listen to music and sing along. Shake it off and rid yourself of nervous tension!

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© Lisa Shambrook

Chocolate: *shrugs* Like I‘ve said many times before, chocolate is a winner. It contains serotonin and can help you relax. Go get a hot chocolate with whipped cream, or grab a bar of chocolate… *grins* Chocolate is good!

What helps you during stressful times? 

Free Spirits and Happiness

I yearn for freedom, for open skies, hills to run, and oceans to swim.
I yearn for the ability to drop everything and escape when life gets too much,
and sometimes I do. Sometimes I need to escape.

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My own views on mortality herald free-agency as a major part of our existence, and though life and circumstance does its best to trap us, freedom and reaching for our dreams is the key to happiness.

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© Lisa Shambrook

What is happiness? There’s a quote which says ‘Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.’ Henry David Thoreau. Sometimes we put too much into trying to find happiness when we should be enjoying life as it is, reaching for the stars, and supping at life’s great feast. Happiness can be the simplest of things to some, like bare feet on dewy grass, or the riches of life, like an expensive glass of champagne, to another, but it’s the liberty of choice that offers both of these.

Many of us regard things we own as the things which make us happy. I could list a fair few possessions that I love which make me happy, we all could, but what are the most important things?

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© Lisa Shambrook

They say when you love something you must set it free ‘If you love something, let it go. If it returns, it’s yours; if it doesn’t, it wasn’t. If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.’ (Commonly attributed to Richard Bach)

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© Lisa Shambrook

There’s a story I remember as a child, a Swedish tale, retold in a picture book I adored. It told the story of The Bird of Happiness. A little boy loses his kite and is upset at its loss. An old man tells him possession is not happiness. Then tells the children the story of a bird, a beautiful golden bird, and it showers a village with happiness. Everyone was happy, and no one was in need while the bird flew and watched over them. Then one day the people began to worry what would happen if the bird ever left, if it forsake them, and they lost their happiness so they decided to build a cage. It was a fine cage, a magnificent cage of pure gold, and while the bird was asleep they trapped it and shut it in the cage.
Every day people came to see the bird, and it was sad, but no one could see. It refused to eat and its golden feathers dulled, and as it paled and greyed a twilight descended over the town. The people became unhappy, and the only thing that shone was the golden bird cage. The bird grew tired and smaller every day.
Then one day the sun stopped shining and the sad town grew quiet, and a flicker of a flame ignited in the cage. Everybody came to see as the bird burned and the fire in the cage grew and spread. The heat melted the gold and the bird suddenly rose in splendour from its ashes, bigger and more beautiful than ever. It circled and then left the town forever.
The old man told the children the bird disappeared and the townspeople had to begin to find happiness on their own. The bird now flies free and every now and then drops a tear or a feather and lights up someone’s life.

My freedoms are important to me, like the bird of happiness, without the ability to be free, to soar and to fly, I could not be happy.

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© Lisa Shambrook

In The Lord of The Rings – The Return of the King: Aragorn asks Eowyn, “What do you fear, lady?” and she responds, “A cage.”

Eowyn needed to escape, to be herself, to be a warrior and a fighter, and to reach for her dreams. My happiness lies in my family, foremost, and in nature, in the ability to write and to read and to escape. Perhaps this is why I like motorbikes, and dragons, and I feel like I have the spirit of a cat!

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© Lisa Shambrook

I fought for many years to become myself, to spread my wings and to fly. I am forever grateful that my children have learned this truth early. Embrace who you are, embrace what makes you happy, don’t worry about being judged by those around you, they need to find themselves, not worry about who you are!

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© Lisa Shambrook

Fight to break those bars, to escape the cage that society places you inside. Your reason for life is you. Know yourself and then you can be the person who lifts and encourages, who inspires and stirs those around you to find themselves too. Be the person who frees others, be the one who cares, be the one who’s there.

Drop your tears and feathers into the lives around you and light up someone’s dark day.

Be happy.

What makes you happy?  

Ten Things I Discovered Beneath…

Do you ever look beneath?

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I love being beneath – the rainbows, the old oak trees, and the stars,
and what else have I found beneath?

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I was five and the verandah was cracking, not long and it would be dangerous… © Lisa Shambrook

I grew up in a house with a veranda out the back. When I was young, Dad tore it down and rebuilt the back steps and I discovered the space beneath the veranda! A dark, dusty, and dirty ‘cave’ which I loved to play in, I doubt today’s health and safety would allow it, but I discovered my imagination down there.

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The night sky has always fascinated me © Lisa Shambrook

I always knew I was a Daddy’s girl, and standing out beneath the stars while he taught me constellations, confirmed it.

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I love the calm beneath the water © Lisa Shambrook

Under water there is calm – a calm which I lack in my every-day life (do any of us have calm in our every-day life?) and swimming relaxes me. I once swam a whole length beneath the water without taking a breath – it was beautiful. Maybe I should be a mermaid…

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Nothing more beautiful than the colours of the rainbow © Lisa Shambrook

Rainbows are all about perspective. Have you ever tried to stand beneath one? Rainbows teach me both magic and science – and that you can never reach the end of one!

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The crashing cascade is a true wonder © Lisa Shambrook

There are many waterfalls in Wales, but at Henrydd Falls and Sgwd Eira you can walk a slippery ledge to get behind the veil of water, but it’s worth it. Standing beneath a waterfall is an exhilarating experience and I found the inner delight of a child and my love of water!

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Arty clutter © Lisa Shambrook

I can’t even go into detail about how many things, every-day items, I’ve lost and found beneath other things – that’s the cluttered home of a writer.

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Lost in the velveteen darkness © Lisa Shambrook

I love the dark. Have you ever gone beneath ground into an old castle ruin’s dungeon or down a mine? Dolacothi gold mine isn’t far away and we visited when my children were small. We wore miner’s hats with lights on the front and big heavy batteries round our waists, and to demonstrate the darkness the miners worked in we were all instructed to turn out our lamps. As we stood in the pitch blackness, small fingers clutched my hand tight and a small, quivering voice rang out in the dark. “Mummy, my eyes don’t work anymore.”  I discovered the innocence and trust of my three-year-old standing in the dark, his hand clutching mine.

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Beneath the Old Oak © Lisa Shambrook

Beneath trees I’ve discovered how to make daisy chains, how to kick up piles of autumn leaves and I’ve found love.

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Anxiety and depression © Lisa Shambrook

Beneath the suffocating blanket of depression and anxiety, I discovered support, love, hope and reasons to carry on…

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The Hope Within Books © Lisa Shambrook

I was a shy and very introverted child, and beneath the façade of quiet and reserved I uncovered an observant and imaginative mind – capable of writing and conveying all the stories queued up in my head – hence, I became a writer!

What have you discovered beneath?

Lisa Shambrook The Hope Within Novels Twitter Ad

The Hope Within Novels by Lisa Shambrook

Find out what Freya discovered Beneath the Rainbow,
what Meg found Beneath the Old Oak,
and what Jasmine searched for Beneath the Distant Star… 

How an Introvert Discovered the True Value of Friendship

‘They might not need me; but they might. I’ll let my head be just in sight;
a smile as small as mine might be precisely their necessity.’

Emily Dickinson’s words ring true – someone might need you.

How an Introvert Discovered the True Value of Friendship - The Last Krystallos
Life has been hard lately.
I’m not just talking about my own life – which has been shatteringly exhausting and left me on a precipice – but those around me have been struggling too. And when you look further afield, easy to do with social media and television in our laps, the world seems to be besieged and careworn, to say the least.

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© Lisa Shambrook

The world has been full of discord, death, politics, and division which reap uncertainty and insecurity, and I can see each of these things in my own personal life and amongst those close to me too. Add physical and mental illness to that and you have a cauldron of despair.

As an empath I absorb, I can walk into a room and absorb the emotions of those around me, but as the world about us shatters, soaking up its emotions is downright dangerous. I can’t dwell on what’s happening worldwide, or even in my own life, instead I want to concentrate on how we deal with the fallout. How we can cope.

Ian Hislop editor of Private Eye magazine recently said about those who voted Remain in the Brexit referendum after we’d been told many times to ‘shut up and live with the decision’“Even if you lose the vote you are entitled to go on making the argument,” This also works with all the mess inside our lives, or in the world at large, we can and should talk about it. But who do we talk with?

Kindness is more than... C. Neil Strait

© Lisa Shambrook

As I stand on the edge of this abyss luring me into a major depressive episode, I fight. Some days I don’t think I’ll win the battle, other days – like my last blog post – I know I can triumph. But what helps me fight? Who helps me fight?

The easy answer is my family. Without them I would be lost and I would not be here. But the bigger answer swathes a multitude of people in my life, most of whom I either do not physically know or who live many miles away from me.

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My Writing Community – DFQ UK

Social Media has been a life saver. That might sound extreme, but it’s very true. I don’t find socialising easy or even possible at times, due to crippling social anxiety. I can overcome it, but usually only in my author guise, you’d be surprised how many authors have significant social anxiety, but that’s another story, so I find making friends very difficult. A year tutor’s school report that upset me greatly, back in year ten, told me I was ‘aloof’. She totally mistook being shy and anxious as being aloof and superior. If she’d taken time to get to know me she’d have found a generous, warm and giving spirit.

The advent of Facebook and Twitter, though, offered me friendships within my own living room. I had the chance to catch up with old friends, find new ones, and I discovered my community. I found people who not only understand me, but those who openly embrace me and love me.

They might not need me but they might - Emily Dickinson - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Take another look at Emily Dickinson’s poem – someone might need you. It might only be a smile, or a hug, and they might be virtual, but still a necessity. Kindness, friends, love and compassion are essential for the human spirit. Every comment on my blog, or Twitter, or my Facebook wall matters to me. Some have even saved me.

Friends are those who notice when you slip and are there to stop your fall... The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Friends help me fight. Friends help me battle the injustice of life and help me see the good and the beautiful. Friends support me and lift me. Friends have given me reason and love.  

Bekah at Calon Sept 2014

© Lisa Shambrook

Having a multitude of online friends from across the world has taught me much. I am learning now that I can foster friendships locally too. I used to feel insecure and unable to invest in friendships where I would actually have to put in time and effort. The natural introvert in me backed away from occasions where I could make friends and interact. I have some lovely friends in my life, who I have often neglected, not purposefully, but out of anxiety and insecurity. Learning that I can ask for support, or even accept it when it’s offered, is a huge and wonderful step for me. I am finally accepting invitations and discovering how powerful and necessary friends are, both online and in my physical life.

Meeting up for a hot chocolate, FB messages, and even texts (I don’t do phone calls!) from those who live close by are becoming more important to me as a support network, and I am extremely grateful for those care and take the time to be my friend.

We all need friends – I won’t quote song lyrics but there are hundreds of them alluding to the importance of friendships – and despite being a lone wolf introvert I’m finally realising why.

Kindness has a beautiful way of reaching down... unknown

© Lisa Shambrook

This week, be a friend, let your smile be just in sight.

Friends are those who notice when you slip and are there to stop your fall; and even better are those who hold your hand and your heart and prevent you slipping in the first place.

What’s your definition of a friend?

How important are friends in your life?

(This post is dedicated to those who matter  – the friends who have seen me through the tough times, whether you live close by or hundreds, or thousands of miles away –
You Know Who You Are
– because you are those who have commented, messaged and spoken to me and kept me here – Thank you ❤ ) 

Anxiety Disorder – the Illness that Inhibits You and How to Beat It

Anxiety is hard to describe to someone who doesn’t suffer with it. The dictionary definition of anxious: feeling or showing worry, nervousness, or unease about uncertainty. While this definition is true, anxiety as a mental health disorder is much more than that.

Anxiety Disorder - the Illness that Inhibits You and How to Beat It - The Last Krystallos

Imagine being held up against a wall with a knife at your throat, your anxiety would be understood, in fact most people would say the emotions running through your head would far surpass anxiety. Anxiety disorder is the same, but without the intruder and the knife at your throat.

anxiety disorder quote by Lisa Shambrook, the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

16th – 22nd May was Mental Health Awareness week in the UK and May is the awareness month in the US. Anxiety and Panic disorders are often glossed over when mental health is discussed, yet these enemies have been the bane of my life since a very early age. I spoke about it with Stigma Fighters and have included it in posts about depression and self-harm, but anxiety has been my constant companion.

Anxiety is common place amongst several different mental health disorders: OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), Agoraphobia, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Panic Disorder, Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety, Separation Anxiety, and other phobias. It often accompanies depression and other mental health conditions.

“Almost one in five people feel anxious a lot or all the time, while nearly half feel more anxious than they used to.” AnxietyUK

In 2013 there were 8.5million cases of anxiety in the UK. Women are twice as likely to suffer as men, and more than 1 in 10 of us are likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some stage of our life. Many of those suffering from anxiety, up to 70%, will have further anxiety based disorders like the ones mentioned above. I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder complemented by Clinical Depression, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety and these often result in self-harm, and this is not uncommon.

The most common physical symptoms of anxiety are:  a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest tightness, butterflies (or worse – I have spitting dragons) in the stomach, and nausea. Often these are joined by a dry mouth, the urge to pass urine/empty bowels, trembling or the shakes, and sweating.
These are accompanied by psychological symptoms like: feeling very tense and agitated, a fear of losing control (anxiety sufferers are often control freaks – I am), huge irritation, a feeling of detachment, and/or a feeling of dread – or as I call it ‘that impending sense of doom’.

People suffering big anxiety or panic attacks can often feel like they’re about to or are having a heart attack. The impending sense of doom can fool you into despair and can lead to self-harm and depression, and even psychotic episodes.

almost one in five feel anxious a lot or all of the time, while nearly half feel more anxious than they used to - Anxiety UK, the last krystallos,

© Lisa Shambrook

I wish I’d known I was suffering from an anxiety disorder as a child, it would have made those moments preceded by panic attacks much easier to cope with. I had several occasions at school when I sat in a classroom unable to concentrate, unable to sit, my head filling with fog, my heart beating like it would explode, numbness coursing through me, and fear spreading through my veins for no particular reason. Several times I ran from PE, or after assembly, and locked myself in the bathroom, or ran from the school building and all the way home – my heart thumping like a road drill and feeling like I was being chased by the entire zombie cast from The Walking Dead.
Even as an adult I’ve sprung from my seat or dropped everything in a shop to run like a deer escaping a hunter. These panic attacks have been the companion to my anxiety.
My anxiety has been crippling. It’s prevented me from many social activities. It’s stopped me experiencing things that have made me apprehensive, and halted my progression where I might have soared.

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Source: ugly-bread

I have lots of online friends, but I’ve found it terribly difficult to form friendships amongst those I know in my locality. I’ve been a loner and alone. My family have been so supportive and they have encouraged me to do more and rise beyond my anxiety, very often accompanying me until I have scoped out new ground and lost the anxiety. Believe me, it can be conquered, but it’s very much one-step-at-a-time!

I have also attended an NHS course for Stress Management, which gave me facts and help for Generalised Anxiety and Depression. I have taken Cipralex (SSRI Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor class antidepressant) a commonly prescribed antidepressant which also helps anxiety. I wish I could have had more counselling covering anxiety; I have had private counselling on issues in my life which have helped, but not specifically for anxiety. I would advise anyone suffering Anxiety or Panic Disorders to seek help from your GP. Put yourself on waiting lists if you have to, and get help. It is out there.

Invisible and visible illnesses - lisa shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

Check out my blog post on The Battle to Beat Depression, Nature’s Antidepressants, and Coping with Self-harm – How to Fight the Urges and Win you might find something to help you, as I’ve used many of these ideas to fight my anxiety as well at other disorders. Also take a look at Shelley Wilson’s Resolution Challenge blog, her post Using a Dropbox to Release Worry, Fear and Anxiety, offers a great idea about writing down your anxieties, fears and worries, screw them up and drop them in a jar – then when you’re ready, take a look at them, if you wish, and see how you’ve grown in the meantime, or just let them go and take great pleasure in ridding yourself of the notes in the trash, or maybe burn them, watch your anxieties go up in flames!

lisa-shambrook-anxiety-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Sometimes your anxiety might be a short-term thing, caused by troubles within your life, like exams, divorce, and illness, things that you can overcome in time or on your own. Sometimes you may be suffering from a more malignant form of anxiety, it might be a mental health disorder or a physical disorder and you need medical help. Whatever kind of anxiety you suffer, know that there are many of us who understand and help is available.

It’s also important to know that anxiety is normal, it’s an emotion that we need and it helps protect us from harm.  

Don’t suffer alone.

What helps you most with your anxiety?

Coping with Self-Harm: How to Fight the Urges and Win

I want to talk about self-harm today,
because I’ve been self-harm clean for six month now,
almost to the day, but I still recall the last time I cut.

Coping with self harm, how to fight the self-harm urges and win, the last krystallos,

My brain was mush, my stomach swirled and churned, and I could barely breathe with the weight on my chest. My body shook, shivered, and sweat. A mixture of sadness and anger and nausea overcame me and, as rage developed, I took to the knife. It wasn’t an actual knife – my weapon of choice was a pin, a sharp, but innocuous pin, meant to hold material together, but used for destruction instead of creation. It scratched and scratched at my skin until beads of crimson sprang through and it continued as scarlet dripped from my arm. Tears slipped down my face and choked in my throat and I couldn’t even see or feel what I was doing.

the-slow-regard-of-silent-thing-self-harm-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook excerpt from The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

That scar sits on my arm, an unwanted, but necessary, reminder, just like the others that adorn my skin. I’m not trying to romanticise cutting, but those who do it need to know that they’re not alone, that there are people out there who understand the swathe of emotions and compulsions that attack them – and that they are conquerable.

Yes, I mean that, self-harm is conquerable and you can win. I’ve written before about ways to comprehend, fight and overcome self-harm. If you need to understand or find help please read: Understanding Self-Harm: the Truths and Myths and How to Help.

Self Harm is conquerable, beating self harm, the last krystallos,

© Lisa Shambrook

Self-harm, though, is like any other addiction, or learned behaviour, meaning that to defeat it you will need to continuously fight it. Again, I outlined many ways to help in my previous post, but I want to touch on what helps me most.

Talisman, totem and stim – A talisman is generally a jewel, or a stone, a charm or an item that means something to you. A totem is regarded as the same, a charm or a ritual object (think DiCaprio’s totem in Inception). A stim is a little different; it’s a behaviour – flapping hands, head-banging, repeating noises, words, movements, or smoothing, rubbing or spinning an item. The BBC have a great article on this: Stimming – What autistic people do to feel calmer. (Neurotypicals, or NT’s like me, also use them)

talisman, totem and stim - the last krystallos, self harm,

© Lisa Shambrook

I’ve seen many self-harmers use the talisman/stim approach and it can work. Touching a pendant, stroking a ring, clutching a pebble – all stim behaviours with a totem of choice.

I attended a Stress Management course on the NHS, several years ago, when counselling and the such were not available to me, and still aren’t. It gave me many ways to deal with stress and anxiety, but it also tried to encourage those with totems and stims to give them up. They talked about keeping a pebble in your pocket and holding onto it when you felt anxious, something physical and ‘there’. It can help you find strength and courage, I can testify to that, but they tried to inspire those of us that did to train ourselves out of it. Maybe in the long run, it would be better not to have to rely on anything but the strength of your mind, but in the meantime if something works, stick to it!

talisman, totem and stim - acorn cups and hazelnuts - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

I have a couple of totems and stims. I keep acorn cups or hazelnut shells in my pocketseverywhere – you won’t find a coat or a bag without one in it. These I use for anxiety and prevention of panic and self-harm. My family find it affectionately weird, but love me for it. I’m a squirrel, claiming acorn caps and random nut shells and if I stop on a walk, it’s because I found a new one.

I have other stims, almost unnoticeably nodding my head (since age 12), picking at my lips, and pulling off scabs and habitually making un-self-harm injuries bleed again, and I used to bite my nails – many will relate to that one! These all precede or accompany anxiety and if I recognise them early, I can use my totem to calm me and prevent self-injury or panic.

The best way I ward off those urges to harm is to polish an acorn cup or hazelnut shell between my fingers. I do it subtly, quietly and imperceptibly hopefully not to bring attention to myself. People have sometimes seen the acorn cup sitting atop my finger but are often too polite to say anything!

In Beneath the Old Oak, my second book, Meg deals with her anxiety using an acorn cup:

‘Meg shifted and reached into her jacket pocket. She retrieved an acorn cup, dipping her thumb into it. Unconsciously, she rubbed it, her thumb smoothing the inside of the cup. A habit she’d had for so long the little wooden talisman was as smooth as silk inside, and even its knobbly exterior was somewhat polished. She ran the cup across her lips, to and fro, and allowed her thoughts to wander.’

Meg’s use is one of habit, an unconscious routine to deal with the anxiety she feels. Sometimes routine, habit and coping strategies bring success, peace and calm. When I am overwhelmed in either the urges I described at the top of this post or with anxiety that feels like it’s crushing me, or panic that’s threatening to push me over the edge, sometimes my acorn cup or my broken-in-half hazelnut shell can calm me enough to prevent more serious behaviour. Some people with these stims feel foolish – don’t. If it saves you it’s worth it.

talisman, totem and stim - acorn cups and hazelnuts - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

I’m an empath – I’ll post about that another day – but suffice to say I feel everything. I feel pain sensitively and exquisitely, and sometimes that’s enough to tip me over the edge. This world is full of personal pain, and sometimes I wish I could dull my sense of discernment. Many of us will need to fine tune our senses and learn to cope with the pain the world throws at us. Coping methods are vital to our survival. In my previous article I point out coping strategies including: rubber bands, taking time out, breathing through, ride it out, distraction, know your triggers, remove yourself, be with people, and finding creative ways to release your emotion and stress. Talismans, totems, and stims can be part of this process and help you to overcome the urges when they hit.

But most importantly, know that you’re not alone, that there are people out there who understand and people who have taken time to learn and have compassion. These people will support and help you.  Find what you can to help you deal with self-injury, but maybe the most valuable thing will be talking to someone who understands, or who’s been there, someone who can help you understand and love yourself.

If you can, be that person.

How do you prevent self-destructive urges, or how do you cope with being overwhelmed?

Everyone’s experience is valuable and you may help someone
who needs to hear what you’ve been through.

If you need help, please see your GP, or at least check out some of the
great sites online that can help: NHS ChoicesThe SiteNSPCCHelp Guide

Beneath the Old Oak AD with SynopsisSelf-harm is part of my book ‘Beneath the Old Oak’ and an unedited NaNoWriMo snippet can be read here. To read more of Meg and her mother’s struggles ‘Beneath the Old Oak’ is available on Amazon and Etsy.

“Turn those dreams of escape into hope…”
Meg thinks her mother is broken. Is she broken too? Meg’s life spirals out of control and she’s terrified she’ll inherit her mother’s sins. Seeking refuge and escape she finds solace beneath a huge, old oak, but a devastating storm will change her life forever.

Misophonia – When Sounds Torment and Drive You Crazy

At twelve-years-old I thought I was going mad.
I couldn’t deal with small and quiet aural and visual stimuli.
It took many years to discover Misophonia is real and I wasn’t crazy.  

Misophonia-the-torment-of-sound-the-last-krystallos-title
Misophonia, often known as 4S or SSSS (Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome), is a very real and restrictive disorder for those who suffer and those close to them. 
I’ve written before about being a Highly Sensitive Person HSP and promised to post about Misophonia.

As a child your quirks are just that, quirks, then you recognise differences between you and those about you. I struggled with noises and visual disturbances.

202. Lisa 10 t-shirt 1981 tiny crop

© Lisa Shambrook

I liked quiet. My bedroom was at the far end of our house with a corridor, bathroom and spare bedroom between myself and the rest of my family. My room was my place of solitude. Though my inability to deal with small noises was apparent earlier the first major problem aired when the neighbours, an elderly couple with a penchant for opera, played music loud and I could hear it through my bedroom wall. The emotions that overwhelmed me were irrational, overwrought and internally violent. I was a placid child, so any violence got absorbed and/or released upon myself. My place of safety was violated with that tinny, muffled sound that emanated through my walls and I had no idea how to deal with it.

At twelve, my grandfather came to live with us. He was already in his late eighties and difficult, but he needed care. I had a chair on the edge of the living room by the window and I could shield myself from others in the room. I had a problem with my mother’s twiddling thumbs, or things I could see out of the corner of my eye. I was already moving books on the bookshelf, so that light and dark spines did not alternate or stand out. My grandfather’s chair was put beside mine, and his legs when crossed left his foot dangling in front of the television. When he bobbed his foot I felt like I would go crazy. My adrenalin surged, my anxiety hit the roof and I wanted to scream and cry. Another safe place was gone.

I had no idea what was wrong with me.

misophonia, severe hypersensitivity to sound, noise, the last krystallos,

© Lisa Shambrook

It wasn’t until many, many years later that a name was put to my condition. Misophonia.  It covered everything that drove me crazy. The sound of people eating (I cannot listen to or be with people eating unless I’m eating myself), snoring, breathing heavily, music from other peoples’ headphones, tapping fingers, cracking knuckles, whistling and chewing gum (both make me want to strangle people), humming, fingers tapping on a keyboard or screen, and the clatter of cutlery all trigger my fight or flight anxiety response. Add to that visual stimuli like the avoidance of lights reflecting on picture frames, fluff and lint on the floor, anything bright that catches and distracts me and you have a real problem.         

My flight response is my default, as confrontation is something that triggers other major anxiety responses such as self-harm. I respond to misophonia with trigger levels of 6 to 10, which you can read about in this Misophonia activation scale *, but my main coping strategy is to eradicate the trigger or remove myself from the area.

 

Misophonia, also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome, is a newly-diagnosed neuro-otological disorder that affects children and adults. Sufferers can feel immediate and intense rage at others’ eating and breathing sounds, about which they become hyper-aware and obsessed, sometimes with an ability to recall trigger incidents years after the event. The condition often sets off a “fight or flight” panic reaction in the sufferer and has been responsible for ruining relationships, breaking up families and leaving those most acutely affected suicidal. *

When a person with misophonia is exposed to a sound in their trigger set, it results in an immediate negative emotional response. This response can range from moderate discomfort to acute annoyance or go all the way up to full-fledged rage and panic. **

To help a non-affected person understand the impact misophonia has on someone with the disorder, they might be asked to imagine how they feel and react when they hear the sound of fingernails being scraped down a chalk board. Most people dislike this sound and will probably ask the person to stop! However, this example falls short of reaching the intensity a misophonia sufferer experiences. **

Caitlin eye

© Lisa Shambrook

I was particularly relieved to know I wasn’t the only one, and have since found many friends with the same disorder. You know who you are! I was also relieved to find my visual disturbances were also part of this: Some are also affected by visual stimuli, such as repetitive foot or body movements, fidgeting, or movement they observe out of the corners of their eyes. ***

It’s good for my family to know I’m not mad, and that the actions/noises that trigger me so much are not their fault. It doesn’t make it any easier to live with, and I know it frustrates my poor husband hugely, but it does validate my condition.

There are treatments, which I’ve never asked for, as I can’t imagine having to explain it to my Dr – it seems so trivial compared to many other illnesses and diseases. The main treatment is CBT Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and I’ve never been able to get that for my anxiety or depression, so I can’t imagine it being available for misophonia!

girl with boots, leather and frills, the last krystallos,

© Lisa Shambrook

So for now, I cope and avoid triggers. Many people suffer mildly from misophonia-like symptoms, but for those of you who know the true reality of this disorder – how do you deal with it? And how serious is its presence in your life?

This post has been particularly difficult to write, but this page for Sufferers at MisophoniaUK has been particularly helpful to me, even as far as bringing me to tears as I realise some of my unwanted symptoms are quite normal. I hope it helps you too.

Please check out these amazing pictures of Mental illnesses as Monsters by Toby Allen and scroll down to Misophonia…

* MisophoniaUK
** misophonia.com
*** Wiki Misophonia

Stigma Fighters – Lisa Shambrook

My #InShadowSelfie for Invisible mental and physical illness Awareness © Lisa Shambrook

My #InShadowSelfie for Invisible mental and physical illness Awareness © Lisa Shambrook

It was a privilege to be invited to share my story about living with mental health issues with Stigma Fighters. It’s a fairly raw process with deep reflection, but also very cathartic…

It’s important to me to help fight the stigma of mental and emotional illness.

© Lisa Shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

Which is why I regularly blog and write on sensitive subjects that have affected my life, and I am committed to bringing awareness to people to avoid and curtail stereotypes and misinformation.

Please read up on some important Emotional and Mental Health issues when you have some time.

And please follow Stigma Fighters on Facebook and Twitter.