Category Archives: Anxiety

Blades – Mid-Week Flash Challenge

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Blades - Photograph Sarolta Ban

Photograph: Sarolta Ban

They were my weapon of choice.

Words cut deep, words wound, but mix words with blades and you have the perfect weapon.

They say Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me – they’re wrong.

It wasn’t even what others said, lost amid my world, inside my own head, is what brought me down.

There were words, plenty of them, but they were mine. No one else uttered them; no one else spoke them, but me. Words simmered below the surface, whispering and murmuring, digging and muttering, piercing and cutting. They moved through my bloodstream, through my veins, seizing and taking hold inside my brain – until they cut like knives, like blades determined to bury themselves deep within.

Nothing could dislodge them and their commitment to destroy was flawless, and they worked into my wounds like burrowing wasps brandishing scalpels. No parry was enough to deflect and I was soon forced to choose my own weapon.

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Blades - Photograph Andy Bate

Photograph: Andy Bate

I would dig them out, thrust and plunge, and drive my own blades deep. And I did.

I gouged and lanced and met those words until they flowed like red silk, until they ran and poured like rivers of crimson, until they gushed in cascades of scarlet ribbons, and I could hold them no more.

They say words don’t hurt.

They do.

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Another great picture for Miranda’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge, from Sarolta Ban. This hits home.

The second picture, by Andy Bate, was last week’s prompt and certainly sat alongside this week’s for me.

Write up to 750 words inspired by the prompt photograph.

 

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Understanding Depression – The Truths and Myths

Depression does not discriminate. Depression is not a choice.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are becoming
much better understood, but we still need to be clearer.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos

Depression can hit anyone – it does not discriminate. Depression ignores your gender, race, age, and any other excuse people can throw at it. It doesn’t matter your financial situation, or your degree of education, or your place in this world. It doesn’t care if you’re fulfilled, or happy, or desperate and suicidal. It does not discriminate.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos - Weeping Geranium

© Lisa Shambrook

Types of depression

There are several types of depression including – Clinical DepressionPost-natal DepressionBi-polar Disorder (Manic Depression)SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)GriefSituational Depression – and they range from mild, moderate, to severe.

The NHS website explains that ‘There’s no single cause of depression. It can occur for a variety of reasons and it has many different triggers.’ Depression can be caused by circumstance, events, or medical conditions, or family history, or through chemical imbalances.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos - Pensive Raven Cat

© Lisa Shambrook

Situational depression is perhaps the easiest (a misnomer if there ever was one, no depression is easy) to deal with as its root cause trauma, trigger, or event, can often be located and treated or understood, the same could be said for depression triggered by grief. A trauma or loss often brings on acute sadness and depression, which may need treating medically or psychologically, but is a condition that can be worked through and hopefully overcome with time.

Other types of depression are harder and maybe impossible to ‘cure’.

Yet, there are still people who claim you can change your life, become more positive, appreciate your blessings, and then you can beat your depression. Maybe, who knows, for some people with situational depression, maybe they can overcome and ride out the bad times, maybe they can ‘pull themselves together’ (I hate that term), maybe they can recognise and make changes in their life and beat depression. Maybe, but also, maybe not.

I’ll add a caveat here: depression (and mental illness as a whole) is not ‘one size fits all’. My experience will be different from yours, and where some people may find depression a blip in their lives, something to overcome, many don’t and will fight it their entire lives.

We must be non-judgmental, compassionate, and understanding in our dealings with those who live with depression.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos - Within the Ocean Cave

© Bekah Shambrook

How Depression is treated

Depression is treated in many ways. Mild depression can be treated with a ‘wait and see’ approach, exercise helps ease depression – and I can bear witness to that – as can diet, psychotherapy, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), and counselling. More serious depression needs a stronger approach. All of the above can help, talking and counselling can be a godsend, but medication can also be necessary. Antidepressants work by increasing neurotransmitter chemicals in your brain, if these chemicals are out of balance they can affect many aspects of your body and mind, including mood. There are several types of antidepressants, and the most popular of these SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) increase the levels of the chemical messenger in the brain – serotonin. Serotonin is an amino acid that is found in food, and it helps run much of your body, and deficiency can cause depression.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos - Sertraline-antidepressant

© Lisa Shambrook

I have written about Antidepressants and my history, and about Coping with the Stigma of Antidepressants, but I still get people telling me that I ought to be more positive, or count my blessings, or that I’m lucky to have everything I do, or that others would be happy with a tiny bit of what I have in my life…

There are a multitude of posts and lists out there online that list the things no one should ever say – and what they should say – to someone living with depression – but people still say them! Get over it, they say, choose to be happy, count your blessings, there’s always someone worse off than you, don’t be selfish, it’s all in your mind (actually, yes, it is – but it’s physiological and psychological, not made-up), try to be happy… If it was as easy as that we wouldn’t be suffering with depression.

Depression is not a choice. Being sad can be a choice, making changes that help you get over problems in your life is a choice, being positive is a choice, but being depressed is not a choice.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos - Clifftop

© Lisa Shambrook

I am a happy person, I’m a positive person, but I also have clinical depression and have had it since I was fourteen-years-old. I was diagnosed at eighteen, and have lived with it ever since. I have taken courses of antidepressants, had counselling, had psychiatric help, seen a psychologist, seen a therapist, used exercise, and I still live with depression.

Thirteen months ago I stood on a bridge at 2am. Life seemed too much. I was overwhelmed. Depression drowned me. I got help and have had counselling and antidepressants since. None of that, or of my history of depression, panic, and anxiety, changes the fact that my life is fulfilling, I adore my husband and children, I love who I am. I have self-harmed since I was twelve-years-old (when I didn’t even know what self-harm was), but that doesn’t change that I know I’m blessed, that I’m happy with my talents, and I love my life.

I know that depression will haunt me throughout my life, but I will manage it. Antidepressants will ‘fix me’ short term, until the chemicals in my brain misalign once more. I will make use of the services available to me, which are getting better.

Understanding Depression - The Truths and Myths - The Last Krystallos - Steel Rainbow Sky

© Lisa Shambrook

But the point of this post is to help understanding and appreciation of what depression truly means.

Depression is not a choice, and it does not discriminate.
It is a condition that those who live with will manage to the best of their ability.
We deserve support and compassion, be the person who seeks to understand.  

Tomorrow, October 5th, is the National Depression Screening Day in the US,
and October 10th is World Mental Health Day… please show your support…

Coping with the Stigma of Antidepressants

Why is it still difficult to remove the stigma of medication
for depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles,
while so many are experiencing these disorders?

Coping with the Stigma of Antidepressants - The Last Krystallos

When we talk about eradicating stigma we’re trying to normalise or accept something that has been deemed a sign of social unacceptability: the shame or disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable. In general, society is becoming much more compassionate and educated about mental health, and the stigma is relaxing. However, we still have a long way to go and even those of us fighting to remove the labels can have trouble accepting.

I’ve lived with clinical depression, anxiety, and panic for most of my life, and dealt with it in many ways. I’ve had success overcoming it using natural ways, and I’ve had many times when I’ve needed medication. Accepting medications has always been difficult. Nobody likes to admit they’re not in control of their own bodies, let alone their own minds.

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© Lisa Shambrook

I know many people on antidepressants, and many who refuse meds, so how do you know if medication will help you?

I didn’t want to be on antidepressants for the long term and I believed meds would only offer the placebo effect after so long. I chose to take six month courses, weaning myself off by nine months, believing the serotonin, the meds, and my biological body would work together to rebalance.

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© Lisa Shambrook

So, what happens when your plans don’t work, when your body doesn’t do what you want it to?

Sometimes you have to allow your body to take its time.

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© Lisa Shambrook

The last few years have been tough, culminating in a psychotic episode almost exactly ten months ago last week. An episode I wasn’t sure I’d return home from. It scared me and my family. The following week got worse, and eventually my GP prescribed Setraline and got me on a waiting list to see a counsellor.

I was scared of where I was and with a history of self-harm and suicidal tendancies I sought out private counselling. This helped greatly with learning coping skills and discovering how to deal with my demons. However, medication does a funny thing. I saw an initial counsellor who saw me in a terrible state, tears, panic, and reflections of the psychosis, and she referred me to a therapist closer to home. By the time I saw my new counsellor, I was a couple of weeks into my antidepressants and despite the side effects they were working. I was calm, relaxed, intelligent, and totally understanding of my mental health state. We worked hard together for seven months – and I felt fine.

Demon-Coping-with-the-Stigma-of-Antidepressants-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

You know you often hear about people stopping their meds because they’re okay now? Yes, that. You truly believe you’re fine, and sometimes completely forget that medication is what’s at work.

Granted, I had many more tools in my mental health coping strategy tool belt, but I didn’t realise how well the antidepressants were working. I spent my seven months on them and (disliking the side effects) decided to lower my dose (with my GP’s say so). I halved my intake and within days I noticed the difference. My proposed weaning off from seven months didn’t go to plan. I became erratic, anxious, and paranoid. And when I experienced my second psychosis, my GP insisted I upped the dose once again.

I am now in what I call ‘no-man’s land’. I haven’t ever been here before and I don’t like it. I feel reliant on medication and I don’t want to be. I feel like I failed. Why didn’t my mind/body stick to my usual plan, the six month – nine month course that always worked before? I don’t want to be dependent on medication and I am stigmatising my own mental health.

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© Lisa Shambrook

Here I am, championing mental health awareness and trying to eradicate the stigma, yet I’m scorning my own need. There’s truth that mental health conditions mess you up – it’s what they do. And accepting that you’re not in control is incredibly hard. I’m a control freak, so there’s that too. I know that I need to be on medication to stabilise, and I don’t know how long it will take for my brain and my biology to do that. I can’t treat it like a broken arm. I can’t time it, or give myself expectations, and I can’t hurry it up.

So, instead, I work on myself, I work on acceptance. I work on loving myself and giving myself time. That’s all we can ask for. For ourselves and those around us also living with what seem like insurmountable health conditions. It doesn’t matter if you have mental health issues, cancer, a broken limb, or any other health condition, nothing should stigmatise what we’re each coping with. Compassion, education, understanding, and love should flow. More so, when governments are assessing and stigmatising conditions and people who need help.

I have no idea how long I will be on medication for, and that’s okay. While I’m on it, I’m fairly stable, and I’m mostly me, and that’s what matters.

Many health conditions are tough to deal with
when all we want are bodies that work the way they’re supposed to.
How do you deal with your health problems when they don’t go to plan?

Losing your Armour – Breaking Down Walls – Embrace YOU

If I’d been a fairy-tale princess, I’d have been Rapunzel – not because of my hair –
but because I keep myself locked away in an impenetrable tower…
Have you lived behind walls – a self-imposed fortress?
Is there really a way to break down those barriers?

Losing your Armour and Breaking Down Walls - Embracing You and Becoming who you should be - The Last Krystallos

Living with anxiety, panic, depression, and low self-esteem lead me to seclusion. I only had a few really close childhood friends. I was open and friendly, but also detached. I was very hurt when in one of my school reports my class tutor wrote that I was aloof. I was about fifteen and though not shy, I was reserved and quiet, and the thought that anyone believed I was unapproachable or lofty was painful. If you truly knew me, I opened up, and was as fun and as giggly as the next teen, but you had to fight and get past my demons before you were allowed into my space.

As clinical depression hit in my late teens, I withdrew. My husband soon became all that I needed, especially after I cut the proverbial apron strings. I brought up three children in my twenties and hit a major crisis in my thirties. Except for my husband I had no one to fall back on, and I felt increasingly lonely. This loneliness lead me to build walls, and when friends I made generally moved away, I stopped making close friendships. My family became my life and my sole focus, even to the detriment of knowing myself.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are -E.E.Cummings - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

An assault took me to medication and therapy, and finally I began to take time for myself. My psychiatrist once told me that women in their thirties made the best psychiatric patients as they truly work hard to know themselves, and can make changes in their lives. My children, then teens, also encouraged me to know who I was and to venture from my tower.

To be nobody but yourself - the last krystallos- lisa shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

Midlife can be the best time to work on you – to truly learn who you are and what you can become.

Brené Brown put it like this:

”I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:

I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.

Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.

Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.”

Over the past fifteen years I’ve started shedding my armour and discovered how to break down my walls.

owning-our-story-and-ourselves-bravest-thing-brene-brown-the-last-krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

I’d spent so long hiding that emerging was tough. It still is. But there are so many reasons to open up and become who you should be. Just watch spring blossom, or a rose, bloom – it’s worth every painful moment of development.

We grow all the time, inside us – ideas, passions, talents, confidence, courage, all these things are slowly rising ready to develop wings to lift us over our walls, bursting forth preparing to shatter our armour. We only have to acknowledge and embrace who we are.

If you cannot be the poet, be the poem-David Carradine-Lisa Shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

How? I hear you say, weighed down with cares, emotions, and an introvert’s anchor plunged deep into your ocean bed…

It’s all about beliefself-belief. That armour that served you so well, keeping you safe, will eventually crush you, it will weigh you down more than your anchor, and will crush your spirit. Instead of hiding behind your walls, let those wings open like a phoenix and lift you over your fears and everything that overwhelms you. Soar like a dragon, set fire to your inner demons and 

Know that you are perfect just as you are.

Know that you don’t need permission from anyone else to be great.

Know that you are exactly who you are meant to be.

Know that you are loved and worthy of love.

Know that only you can ever be the best you.

Our deepest fear... - Marianne Williamson - The last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

I still live in a tower, but I’m learning how to break down the walls, how to fly and soar, free from the anchors and armour that weighed upon my spirit and dampened who I am.

Be who you are meant to be…

Figuring out who you are is the whole point of the human experience-Anna Quindlen-Lisa Shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

Break down those walls and become who you are…

It's time to show up and be seen - Brené Brown - The Last Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

The Albatross – Mid Week Flash Challenge

My feet moved as if they were dripping with wet cement, but they moved forward all the same.

It had been raining when I’d arrived at the lonely beach, but the sun had glazed the sky and a soft breeze had chased the rain west. Now, bronze clouds swept across the firmament and a warm zephyr caressed my hair.

It wasn’t enough and I kept walking.

Water slapped the struts of the pier the only sound above the light wind that tickled my ears, and my soft footfalls.

The boards beneath my feet echoed and I thrust my hands into my Virginia Woolf pockets. Fingers stroked stones, smooth pebbles, and balled up letters of love.

At the end of the pier I sank to my knees and peered down into the water. Burnished clouds danced over the ripples as twilight gave way to dusk. I moved to let my legs dangle, my toes dipping into the ocean.

Tears slipped silently into the water, not making a sound as they joined the vast body of sea, and I considered how it would feel to follow them.

The clouds in the ocean parted and diamond stars sparkled like glitter strewn across the water, but even that wasn’t enough.

Paper, wrapped around the pebbles in my pockets, burned my fingertips, and my tears yielded to sharp, choked sobs, and I swung my legs, gaining momentum, rhythm, and resolve. My hands moved from my pockets to grip the timber, to push, to give me strength, to urge my body forward.

The last rays of copper shifted across my legs as the sun bowed low, begging me to sink with him, to tag along on his shimmering tail sinking into the silky sea. My sigh rivalled the breeze and I closed my eyes, grasping the beams beneath cold, trembling fingertips.

Dizzy with anticipation, sick with fear, and empty of care I prepared to slide from the pier.

Behind me a soft whoosh moved through the breeze and I thought angel wings touched my shoulder. Startled amid the quiet and acquiescent eventide, my eyes fluttered open and I twisted to see what celestial presence had landed behind me.

The huge bird stared at me with eyes as dark as night rimmed with gold, and snow-white feathers quivering with curiosity. I gazed back at the ghostly creature, glowing beneath the rising moon, and wonder struck my soul.

The bird shook his head and eyed me at an angle that must have been uncomfortable, and a smile whispered across my face for the first time in forever. His hooked beak dipped and the albatross shook his wings. Soft, downy feathers spilled and spiralled about me, like lost confetti, and tears blurred.

Then far away, beyond the cliffs, over the ocean, a cry caught the wind and the bird raised his head. His answering call spoke to my heart and I knew his mate waited. Love endured.

Pebbles dropped with my heavy heart, one by one.

It was enough.

As the albatross launched and soared across the sky above me, my soft footfalls echoed through the night as I made my way back down the pier, my bare feet slapping on cold, damp boards and my hands keenly clutching a white feather of hope.

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Leaping right in early with a piece for Miranda’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge over at Finding Clarity.

Write up to 750 words inspired by the prompt photograph.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 – Surviving or Thriving?

This week 8th – 14th May is Mental Health Awareness Week,
and this year the Mental Health Foundation have chosen the theme:
Surviving or Thriving?

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 - Surviving or Thriving - The Last Krystallos

It’s a thin line.

Two thirds of people in the UK say they have experienced a mental health problem, with women, young people, and those who live alone affected most. The survey, completed by The Mental Health Foundation in 2017, also discovered that those over the age of 55 cope best with taking steps to make their lives better, 85% of the unemployed have experienced mental health issues, and that 3 out of 4 low income families suffer compared to 6 in 10 in the highest income positions.

4 in 10 people live with depression and over a quarter of the population experience panic attacks.

Out of 2,290 people surveyed, sadly, only 13% reported a high level of good mental health.

Mental Health Awareness - the last krystallos -happiness-and-melancholy-virginia-woolf

© Lisa Shambrook

With poor mental health in such a vast amount of the population you could ask why?

The reasons are huge and we may not even understand or know some of them. Social, financial, political, familial, religious, and medical reasons abound, let alone the mental and emotional reasons that we are working with or haven’t even discovered yet.  Our modern diet, pollution, smoking, drinking, drugs, lack of exercise – all of these may add to or cause mental health issues.

The survey concludes that ‘the collective mental health of our nation is deteriorating,’ and warns thatthe barometer of success of any nation is the health and wellbeing of its people.’ We have a long way to go, and we need to support each other to become a healthier nation.

Mental Health Awareness - rain - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Perhaps the most important thing when asking the question Survive or Thrive? is to discover what we can do to help, to support those who live with mental and emotional health issues. We can help those around us thrive, despite the conditions they live with.

I’ve blogged about many Mental Health Issues, so feel free to browse to find information if you wish. Depression, Anxiety, Self-Harm, Highly Sensitive People, Misophonia, Running Away, and I’ve written a post on How to Keep Calm and Carry On – offering advice on coping with Stress.

Like I’ve mentioned in my This is What Anxiety Feels Like post, some people have circumstantial or situational mental health issues, and thankfully, most of these issues pass in time and as situations change, but others live with constant and life-long conditions.

Mental Health Awareness - dog - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

How do you support those you know with challenging conditions?

Accept – a mental health condition is as legitimate as a broken bone, you wouldn’t ask someone with a broken arm to prove it, or to pull themselves together and get on with it. Be accepting and validate us with compassion and empathy.

Listen – Be there when we need you. Be attentive and intuitive, we may not always be able to tell you when we need you. Many mental health conditions, like anxiety and/or depression, often take away self-confidence and make us very insecure, and we often don’t ask for help when we need it. Offer your ear, sometimes we need to talk. Talking can be very cathartic. If you can help or encourage us to get counselling, you can help us make big steps forward.

Support – even when we shy away, or get prickly, or reject you, we still need you. Your support and love is often what helps us hold it together when things are tough. Your support is imperative because professional help can be very hard to get, and requires long periods on waiting lists for six or ten sessions of counselling. Trying to get help can be demoralising and very often we give up. We are waiting for the government to invest in mental health care and for the stigma to be erased. We need support.

Learn – educate yourself about the mental illness that your loved one is living with. It will benefit everyone. Understanding a condition helps you live with it and offer the right support.

Don’t Judge – never tell someone with a mental illness that it’s all in their head, or that they’re work-shy, or that it doesn’t exist. Don’t ever tell them that they should be glad they haven’t got *insert cancer or other physical disease*. Many mental illnesses have very physical symptoms. Educate yourself. Please, also, don’t tell them that it could be worse. It probably couldn’t to them and we all deal with our problems in different ways and on different levels. This one goes along with acceptance, but is even more important, as sometimes those with metal health issues can be living on a knife edge and your judgement or criticism could push them over the edge.

Be lenient – make allowances (but never be patronising). Like I said many conditions have very debilitating physical symptoms like exhaustion (mental exhaustion creates physical exhaustion), tremors, headaches, racing heart rate and palpitations, physical pain, nausea, inability to breathe, and more. Our medication can also cause many side effects. Emotional responses can be just as hard to cope with for those living with these conditions. When we can do something, we’ll do it, but sometimes we just can’t.

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© Lisa Shambrook

The stigma attached to mental health is slowly fading and we can all do our bit to fight and eradicate it. We even have Royals, William, Kate, and Harry spearheading the #HeadsTogether campaign to end the stigma around mental health.

Let’s work together to support each other, not only to survive, but to thrive!

Mental Health Awareness - cat - the last krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

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.

Free Spirits and Happiness - The Last Krystallos
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?