Living with a mood disorder

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The Freeing of the Mind

Clearing the mind, just like clearing the clouds from the sky

Clearing the mind, just like clearing the clouds from the sky

Usually, for me, when depressed hits it is usually Bam, have it type of affair.  Then I look around me and see the warning signs are there and question why I didn’t spot them.  Though when I woke up on Monday with this strange feeling throughout my body and mind I had to question what was going on.  It took me all day to realise that I was actually depressed.  I was able to notice that I was falling into that pit of depression and self pity before it really took hold.  Strange as it was I felt relieved, and surprised, that I was able to notice the warning signs before the darkness really took hold.

Now, I’ve had depression for 16 years which is scary in itself.  I have been depressed for nearly half of my life.  Well, I’ve been officially diagnosed with depression for nearly half my life; it was there a long time before I got the diagnosis.  During that time I have had medication and drugs to hide the feelings, but this time around I have none of that in my system.  I am alone when it comes to pharmaceuticals or drugs.  I have to find a way through this without reverting to old coping mechanisms.  The tools are there, I just need to implement them.  Which is easier said than done.

Getting up in the mornings thinking to myself “I need to meditate” or “I can’t sit on the sofa and watch mind numbing TV all day” and “I need to speak to real life humans”.  Though the reality was I couldn’t calm my mind for the meditation, all I wanted to do was watch crap on TV and I didn’t feel worthy of disturbing friends with my problems.  All I wanted was for the world to swallow me whole, wishing for the day to be over at 4pm so that I could start again tomorrow.  There was none of this “I don’t want tomorrow to come”, it was all “I can try again tomorrow”.

So with that tiny little piece of hope there that tomorrow would be better I secretly knew that the depression wasn’t going to win.  I knew that it couldn’t win as that was the risk of another personality defect to settle in and then my life would really be over.  I’ve been in the dark solitude, of this personality defect, before and there was no way I would be able to get out of it again.  It hurt too much and I’m not sure if I could drag myself out of hell again.  It was all up to me to prevent that from happening, without the aid of medication or drugs.

Sat on the sofa without the TV on but a book instead I believed that this was a form of self care, which it is, but when you realise you’ve read this book before and know what happens throughout you put the book down again.  Then you find another book which brings deep joy and happiness even though you’ve read it a few times before you think “That’s too thick, it won’t happen”.  So thoughts go to walking out in nature and again there are the usual excuses not to go; it’s raining or I went yesterday.

Then something happened in the building where I live.  The police were here yet again though this time it was different.  It wasn’t the usual drug bust that happens on a regular basis, it was what seemed a Safe and Well check.  Though if that was a Safe and Well check I certainly don’t want one, I’m kind of attached to having a front door I can open and close at my own will.  So, of course a neighbour wanted the gossip.  I’m not a gossip person but I know I needed company and loneliness kicked in so I went for a cuppa with him.  Turns out that being in someone elses company, even though I was hearing his life story for the hundredth time, was actually what I needed.  It gave me the motivation to return home and get some ‘admin’ done that had been sat there looking at me for weeks.

This buzz didn’t last long and I was back to feeling the self pity and self loathing of myself, I knew I had a ‘Skype date’ coming up.  I started to feel that I wasn’t worthy of talking to someone and wasn’t prepared for what we were going to talk about.  Then she was there in front of me on the laptop.  I have switched over my DSA support to Diverse Learners and I am now working with Kerry.

Although we were talking about essay planning and structure, one example stuck out in my mind and can be used in all areas of life.  When writing an essay you need to know where you’re going, but you also need to know how you’re going to get there.  You can’t just have the essay, you need to work and build up the contents through research and planning.  The example was compared to me running; while I would love to be able to run I can’t.  Not just because I look stupid out there, but because I have damaged muscles and tendons in my knees.  For me to be able to run then I need to strengthen my knees; I need to do physio, stretches and build up slowly.  This is the same for anything in life really.  If I want my depression to go away then I need to do the research of what works for me recovery wise, I need to integrate them into my daily routine and I actually need to practice these things.  Depression isn’t going to vanish at the click of my fingers no matter how much I wish that it would.  I need to work at it in small chunks and make sure I get a new routine to ensure they’re happening.

After all the laughs and giggles with Kerry, I woke up in a positive mood the next morning.  I knew what I had to do and I knew that I had to do it now.  Walking is best for me in the mornings as it sets me up the rest of the day.  Meditation also works best first thing before the mind chatter kicks in so I managed to integrate them both and found myself meditating next to the river.  Although it did feel a little bit of a chore making sure I done them both, once they were done I was able to feel free.  I found this magic little trail through what felt like a very miniature Cannock Chase and got lost in the amazement of what is there on my doorstep.  In the middle of a town we have a river, woodlands and even a farm.  Rabbits, squirrels, ducks and the odd cow all there doing their own thing and not even concerned that I was walking through their home.  The stopped and looked at me but soon carried on regardless.

I know that I am very early in this ‘recovery’ lark, and I don’t want to sound preachy, but I have really found the benefit of being able to set a routine and work with small chunks to enable the bigger picture to come to life.  I do believe and hold that hope that I can control the depression without medication, I just have to work at it.  At the start of the week I was reminding myself to shower and brush my teeth, and after human contact and a bit of a reality check I am feeling free from the mind constraints that I had placed on myself.  Easy does it, one day at a time.

For anyone wanting to try meditation out, I would heartily recommend Buddhify2.  Easy and simple; just plug it in and you’re on the go.  They’re also on twitter here.

Being greeted at my new meditation spot by these lovely guys

Being greeted at my new meditation spot by these lovely guys

Making friends with a cow on my nature walk

Making friends with a cow on my nature walk

My new meditation spot with the gentle wind rustling through the leaves

My new meditation spot with the gentle wind rustling through the leaves


The Quetiapine Reduction: An Update

One of my downfalls is not being able to start everything I finish, which can be said for the journal of coming off the quetiapine.  There’s one good day and you forget all about it and then you think “I’ll do it tomorrow”, a week later you finally realise you’ve lost track.  Still not knowing what day of the week it is, or how long this has been going on for, I shrugged it off as a non-(re)starter.

I’ll admit that I haven’t done as instructed by my GP, but that’s the choices I made at the time I needed to make them.  The first nine days were utterly dreadful.  That part of the tapering process saw me taking two doses a day, one in the evening and one in the morning.  Now, whose idea was it to take an antipsychotic with sedative in the mornings?  Not a good idea in my books.  If I wasn’t sleeping then I was in too much pain to move with another level of pain on top because I didn’t move.  It all came to ahead one morning where I just cried down the phone to a friend first thing in the morning because of the pain I was in.  It felt as though I was putting this pain on myself by taking the morning dose, and who in their right mind would inflict such pain on themselves?  From what I can remember the pain felt from coming off heroin wasn’t this bad.  From that point on there was no more morning meds.

Then I had this glimmer of light, this feeling throughout my mind and body of what it would be like not to be on the meds.  I was thinking again, and not just your everyday thinking I was on another level.  Maybe not like the film Limitless, but it was how I used to be able to think before these meds shrouded my brain in fog.  I had ideas and thoughts for the future instead of the apathy towards life usually stemming with the thought process of “I can’t be bothered” or “I’ll do it tomorrow”.  Everything needed doing now and today, and I even found myself doing chores around the house unconsciously and rather enjoying them.  I had energy again; I even went on a 7km walk for the fun of it and not because I had to get out and move.  I must say that this was my favourite part of the tapering, if favourite is an appropriate word there.

Slowly though the medication hang overs were getting worse to the point that after waking at around 7 I was still hung over well in to the afternoons.  Once the hangover lifted I was able to carry on functioning in a way that was enjoyable, with the energy levels allowing me to do normal things.  However I had a training session down in London which meant leaving the house at 7.30am.  If I was to even get up, dressed and ready for travelling to the training, without the hang over, I had to miss a night dose.  It worked; I was up and had a brilliant time at the training.  Again, there was brain functioning that I haven’t had in a very long time and I even surprised myself at the level of knowledge I had and was able to portray to the others on the day.  It was the old me showing herself to not only the world but to myself too.  I could very easily get used to having the old me back.

After getting back from training late and knowing I had another early start the next day I decided to miss another dose.  I was able to carry out what I needed to first thing and then straight home and back on my beloved sofa for the next stage of withdrawals; stomach problems, flu like symptoms and migraines.  Trying to get food inside me when it felt as though I was already full, even though I hadn’t eaten yet that day, was horrible.  I ended up eating half a banana and a bowl of cereal all day; I simply could not get food in me.  I knew that this stage would come as it’s my body adjusting to life without meds, it has to create its own chemicals now with no help from the outside world.  I was also expecting insomnia to kick in and leave me unable to sleep for days.  Luckily, I’ve not had such a problem.  Well, I can’t get to sleep before 2am and I’m up again at 6.30; it isn’t exactly a refreshing night’s sleep, but I’m sleeping naturally.

There is still some way to go; just because I’m no longer taking the meds doesn’t mean my body has adjusted yet.  I still struggle to eat and also get moving physically.  Though I’ve had a glimpse at what life can be like without the meds and I’m positive that everything is going to be alright.

As for psychological effects from reducing, there has been the odd overthinking of a situation though I’ve been able to recognise that and deal with it before I’ve flown off the handle at people for no reason.  There hasn’t been mood swings and I feel quite stable right now.  Whether this is because I’m too preoccupied by the physical withdrawals, I don’t know, but touch wood (pats head) psychologically I’m doing quite well.

So that’s where I’m up to.  I still stand by the tips that I gave in my last blog (I’ll list them again below), especially the maintaining nutrients, eating well and moving as much as possible as these have given me control back in my life which the apathy took away from me.

If reducing quetiapine is something that you and your healthcare professional have agreed on, it is hard, it does take time but it will be worth it in the end.  My tapering has happened quite fast, as I said my own choice, so please take care and listen to your healthcare professionals advice for your reduction.  The journey itself is something that you can learn from, grown from and develops who you are.

I’ve just come across this document about reducing harm while coming off psychiatric drugs from The Icarus Project and Freedom Centre.  One of their key points is “Everyone’s experience is different”; though if there are similarities in basic tips that can help other people then let’s share them.  Why should one person suffer when you could make a difference by sharing even one helpful tip? So here are six helpful tips:

1)   Exercise.  No matter how much physical pain you’re feeling, keep on moving.  The movement will not only ensure your body is still mobile, but will help reduce the insomnia each night.

2)   Bananas.  Bananas are a great source of potassium and help with muscle ‘jitters’.

3)   Electrolytes.  Your body is about to go through a transformation and needs to be able to absorb all the nutrients you put in, so make sure your electrolytes are kept in balance. You can either use Lucozade, which is laden with sugar and will cost you financially in the long run, or make your own.  Simple recipes for your own electrolyte drinks can be found here.

4)   Journaling. I’ve found during the first week of tapering I have had a few life changing realisations about myself.  It is important to write these revelations down because distractions from the tapering process can make you forget them.  You don’t want to forget them, they are life changing.

5)   The Road Back is a website containing information about coming off all types of medication.  From pre-tapering to tapering, antidepressants to antipsychotics. It’s worth a look for how to prepare yourself for what’s about to happen.

6)   Keep eating.  While you probably won’t have the energy to make proper meals for yourself it is important that you keep eating, your body needs as much fuel as it can get.  Prepare some tasty home cooked food before you start, ask a friend to help you, or make use of healthy ready made meals.

*disclaimer* This is not meant as medical advice; this is my journey of coming off quetiapine.  Please seek medical advice if you are contemplating reducing or coming off this, or any, medication.

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The Quetiapine Reduction (week one)

I joked that after finishing this year at uni I wanted to sleep for the next four months. It was a joke, unlike what has actually happened.

Recently after a revelation at a psychiatrist appointment he asked if I want to come off my medication, quetiapine.  Of course I know that this is quite a big step in recovery as coming off any medication is hard, though coming off an antipsychotic is even more troublesome.  The opportunity to go forward with this was not taken lightly, there were tears and tantrums but in the end I knew it was the right time to do this.

Knowing that coming off antipsychotics is not the easiest thing therefore I felt I had to do some basic research into how to make the withdrawal as easy as possible.  Sadly, most of the stories you read from a basic google search are all scary.  Upon reading these stories, and my imagination on overdrive, I wanted to make sure I could do everything within my power to make sure I don’t end up in hospital.  I’ve managed to pick up some basic tips and hope to find some more as the journey continues.

I am also very keen to look at the spiritual side of recovery, and reduction, as I’ve found mental health recovery focuses on physical and mental aspects.  While I’m not sure at the moment where this will fit in with the journey I’m about to face, in terms of sharing the journey with you, I will maintain regular meditation and mindfulness as well as following a spiritual path of discovery.


1)   Exercise.  No matter how much physical pain you’re feeling, keep on moving.  The movement will not only ensure your body is still mobile, but will help reduce the insomnia each night.

2)   Bananas.  Bananas are a great source of potassium and help with muscle ‘jitters’.

3)   Electrolytes.  Your body is about to go through a transformation and needs to be able to absorb all the nutrients you put in, so make sure your electrolytes are kept in balance. You can either use Lucozade, which is laden with sugar and will cost you financially in the long run, or make your own.  Simple recipes for your own electrolyte drinks can be found here.

4)   Journaling. I’ve found during the first week of tapering I have had a few life changing realisations about myself.  It is important to write these revelations down because distractions from the tapering process can make you forget them.  You don’t want to forget them, they are life changing.

5)   The Road Back is a website containing information about coming off all types of medication.  From pre-tapering to tapering, antidepressants to antipsychotics. It’s worth a look for how to prepare yourself for what’s about to happen.

6)   Keep eating.  While you probably won’t have the energy to make proper meals for yourself it is important that you keep eating, your body needs as much fuel as it can get.  Prepare some tasty home cooked food before you start, ask a friend to help you, or make use of healthy ready made meals.

My plan for tapering:

I am aware that tapering off these meds is down to the individual and their healthcare professional, so my plan may not be the same as everyone else’s. Therefore, please talk to your healthcare professional for advice on tapering and do not use this as an example for you to take into your own hands.

My tapering plan involves 1/3 of the original dose taken in the mornings and evenings for two weeks and then 1/3 of the original dose in the evenings only for three weeks.  At this point I’ll go back to my GP and review how it’s going.  I should also be seeing my psychiatrists at the same time so I’ll be able to have both of their opinions as to where to go once I’m at the end of the tapering.

Reflections from the first 6 days:

While I read all the stories of how tapering off the meds can be I think I allowed myself to think that it wasn’t going to be as bad as I had read.  Especially from reading how bad things were when people went cold turkey off this stuff.  I mean I’m doing this with healthcare professional backing, tapering off slowly and done research into ways to reduce symptoms.  What could go wrong?

It has hurt more than I could have ever imagined.  I was expecting insomnia, not continuous sleeping or tiredness.  I was expecting to be able to have some sort of life while doing this, but the only life I have led is a cosy little relationship with my sofa.  I do believe that most of this pain is from taking a morning dose as quetiapine has a sedative in it.  While I struggle with natural sleep, especially day time sleeping, the quetiapine wants to knock me out.

Although this has been painful, I do feel that I was meant to be doing this now, at this moment in time.  I have recently been growing mentally and spiritually which has allowed me to have better insight to myself and my life.  By not having real life contact with the outside world, due to the pain, and social media contact when I choose I have been able to explore myself when the brain allows me to.  I’ve realised who I was before these meds and who I am now, that I’m not as outgoing and forthcoming as I used to be and I need to make changes to rectify that.

Week two I feel is going to be pretty much the same as week one as there is no change to the tapering plan.  However I will continue to log everything down in case anything spectacular or jazzy takes place. You never know, my sofa might want to end our relationship.

Disclaimer stuff:

*disclaimer number one* This is not meant as medical advice; this is my journey of coming off quetiapine.  Please seek medical advice if you are contemplating reducing or coming off this, or any, medication.

 *disclaimer number two* I have always been careful with my blogs not to talk about medications; it’s a thing of mine.  I’m not a Dr and I don’t claim to be, therefore I do not wish anyone to perceive my talking of medications as so.  While I know that I am sharing my journey with coming off quetiapine I am still wary of stating doses; therefore no doses will be mentioned here.


Right, here goes…

Meds Reduction Diary (this is a long piece and only the diary continues from here): 

Day one:

After having my psychiatrist offered me to come off my meds last week I decided I should do it.  I haven’t really needed them, apparently after what he said to me, so why have nasty anti psychotics loitering in the veins.

The first fear I have with this is sleep. I’ve never overcome the homelessness and sleeping with one eye open thing, so natural sleep hasn’t happened for over seven years.  I know that this is something that I need to overcome so later this week when I see my counsellor I’ll be bringing this up.

Here goes day one of 1/3 dose.

Day 2:

Well last night’s sleep went better than expected.  I found it strange that I have struggled to sleep for the last week on the old dose but the first night on 1/3 knocked me out within two hours.  Broken but restorative sleep and awake at 5am, maybe with a little help from one hell of a noisy bird out of the window.  Not sure when to take the morning dose as I’m expecting that to knock me out too, not keen for day time sleeping.

Been up for three hours and decided I best take my morning dose before breakfast.  Can’t remember the last time I had this much energy; dancing to the radio, cleaning the kitchen.  Feels slightly like hyper mania, kind of liking it.  But I know I can’t push it and I have to take things slow.

Who’d have thought your body could scream out in pain for not moving for six hours, but also scream out in pain for the slightest movement which has led to you not moving for six hours.  Not sure I like taking the morning meds; even the thought of doing this for two weeks scares me.  I don’t like this pain.

It’s taken me all day to get some energy back and I’ve even been able to get in a mini Lush pampering session.  So even though I’m really not looking forward to this next dose, because of the pain I’ve been in all day, at least I know that I smell nice. There’s a bonus in there somewhere.

Oh, and I’ve made one of those drinks today, the orange and lemon electrolyte drink, and it was that good I made another.

Day two:

Had a pretty good night’s sleep, woke up around 8am refreshed though wanting more.  Sadly woke with fear, anxiety and anger as I knew that I had to take my next dose.  If yesterday was anything to go by, I do not want to go through that again.  The fear of being sofa bound and in pain as my body wanted to shut down was screaming out at me, I was close to tears with this thought.

I bit the bullet and took the morning dose as instructed.  Expecting the worst I’ve tried to do as much as I can while I have the energy; the hamster has been cleaned out, two loads of washing and yesterday’s washing up done.  Three hours later and I’m not half dead as I was expecting, though the thought that it’ll kick in any moment is restricting what I’m doing.  Just goes to show that a bad experience first time around doesn’t mean it’s going to happen the second time you do it.

Typical, the tiredness and pain starts an hour before a group support meeting.  I’m not going to be able to go, which I really want to be there.  Reflecting on the comment at the start of this blog where someone compared this experience to heroin withdrawal.  I can confirm that the pain experience (as in flu like symptoms in the bones, joints and muscles) is very similar to heroin withdrawal; though the intensity and time span of the pain is not on the same scale.  This hurts; heroin withdrawal hurts a hell of a lot more.

Keep getting the physical anxiety type feelings, not the emotional ones.  Though, I’m freaking out by the physical anxiety which in turn causes anxiety.  I keep having thoughts of “Whose piggin’ idea was this?” Must keep reminding myself that it’ll be worth it in the long run, being off the meds is the right decision here.  Wish I had someone to cuddle up to, that’ll be nice right now.

Day 3:

So I cried myself to sleep last night as the pain was that bad, bordering on heroin withdrawal pain?  Luckily the evening dose still has enough strength to knock me out so slept really well.  I woke up in pain all over again; I think if I had a bed of nails to sleep on even that would be comfy right now.

Today is meant to be counselling day.  She doesn’t know that I’m coming off the meds as I’ve not seen her since the start of this journey.  The main thing I wanted to talk to her about was the insomnia that will happen once I’m on minimum dose of this stuff.  At the moment I’m ok sleep wise so that’s not an issue.  I really don’t think I can make it to the session though, it’s at Uni and I have a stupid long walk through a hospital to get to Uni.  That I really can’t face right now.  If the appointment was closer, as in bus stop to bus stop with no walking anywhere then I could make it.

Strange because I was expecting there to be psychological effects kicking in by now and so far it’s all been physical pain going on.  I don’t think you realise just what you are pumping into your body until it comes to coming off what you’re taking.  The changes my body must have gone through to adapt to taking these things must be huge for me to be feeling this bad while trying to come off them.  Yes, it hurts but I must keep going.  I can’t turn back now.

It’s a weird feeling when the mind and body are out of sync.  The mind is saying “Come on, let go do something. Let’s enjoy the sunshine”, whereas the body is leaning towards the “Do one!” answer.  I was trying to be gentle with myself yesterday, but seeing the state of the fish tank it needed cleaning.  That, I think, was the push too far yesterday.  That was what caused the pain and left me in tears.  I want to get up and move, but the pain is too much.

Closed my eyes for a couple of minutes and three hours later I wake up thinking that was a bloody good dream.  I really must’ve needed that as I’ve never slept during the day, well not for years.  Also, after a chat with a friend, I found out that I can actually think.  You don’t realise that ability has been taken away from you until it comes back again.  I must have been in a world where all I could think about was how to get to the bathroom when in so much pain.  Now I’m having deep thoughts about the labels we assign to ourselves, or others, and how society affects the way we perceive ourselves based on these labels. Yes, I now have the ability to think.

Day 4:

Again slept quite well and had no problems getting off to sleep.  Though woke up with the whole groundhog day feeling; not this again.  I do feel as though I have more energy and that I can do more before the sleepiness of the morning meds kick in.  Though still have that fear of being too far away from the sofa for when the tiredness does hit.  Not sure if too much info here, but best being honest with this journey.  I’ve been able to have the first shower since this started.  Standing up in the shower was too much to handle pain wise before, so this really did feel good.  The hair isn’t being dried as I can’t reach my arms above my head with the hairdryer for that long, but I’ve had a shower. Whoopie.

Noticed that I’m eating loads too, getting as much carbs in me unconsciously.  Maybe something to look at once this is done, because I’m not changing anything else in my life until this is over; the whole change too many things and it’ll all go wrong approach.  Kind of looking forward to when I don’t have to take morning meds anymore.

Starting to get narky, not cause of mood changes but cause I’m sick of feeling like crap.  Not being able to walk up the stairs without wanting to collapse at the top is driving me mad.  Just a bit of energy and the ability to stay awake during the day would be amazing.  To think I have another week and half of this.  A friend reminded me that sticking this out is a great achievement, shows I’m not running away from things.  I need to do this, but the meds need to let up too. Deal?

Day 5:

Disturbed night’s sleep, though I think that was more the humid and sticky weather than the withdrawals to be fair.  Had this great idea that I’d take my meds and while I had a bit of energy before they kicked in I would get out for a walk.  It was a great idea, first time I left the flat for a week and I could smell the freshly cut grass, hear the ducks around the river and even spot some overly energetic rowers going up and down the river too.  It was hard work, very hard work.  On the return home all I could do was put on foot in front of the other while chanting to myself “Keep breathing. I will not pass out.”  It was as though all my limbs were dead weights and there wasn’t enough oxygen reaching the brain.  I didn’t pass out but happily collapsed on the sofa when I got in.  Not planning on moving for a while.

Finally the sleepiness has kicked in, though I’m fighting it. Not sure why, I just don’t want to be asleep during the day. Although there’s nothing going on, I feel as though daytime sleeping means you miss something.  Finding intrusive thoughts enter my head today too.  I think it stemmed from nearly falling off the bottom couple of steps on the horrid spiral stair case I have.  If I’d have fallen and hurt myself, even broken a bone or two, then I feel I would still have to look after myself; do this withdrawal and broken bone recovery on my own.  Loneliness is something I struggle with anyway, though I know I’ve bought that on myself, so once I’m on my feet again I can really look into reducing the loneliness I feel.  Right now though, it’s afternoon kip time. Oh, sneezing.  There’s lots of sneezing going on.

Strange how my last comment was about being lonely and I’ve just pushed someone away.  The pain and tiredness for so long is making me angry and wish it would end.  The thought of “I can’t do this” comes to me, but I have to carry on.  Not sure I can do this dosage for the two weeks like I’m meant to though, we’ll see how it goes tomorrow/Monday for a seven day stint.

Random observation; although I managed to have a shower yesterday and have a good clean down it appears that my hair has managed to gain at least a weeks’ worth of grease in 24 hours.  It’s not like I’ve dunked my head in a chip pan or anything, so where’s that come from? Anyway I had enough energy to have another shower today and clean it all up

Day 6:

Strange night’s sleep, I awoke a few times to the hamster trying to chew her way through the bars.  Previously the fire alarm didn’t wake me so this shows my depth of sleep is changing.  Still don’t feel I have full strength back, though not expecting that to happen until I’m off the morning dose to be fair.  Woke up to some news this morning which got me thinking; I’ve been in this medication world of ‘do what needs doing and nothing extra’ for a while now.  I also seem to miss what’s going on because of that ‘I can’t be bothered’ mode.  I really do hope that it’s the meds talking because I don’t remember having this problem before starting quetiapine. I feel I’m pinning a lot of changes happening when I’m off the meds, I know that I need to make the changes happen but hoping that energy levels dramatically increase to allow me to make the changes needed.  We’ll see what happens.

A couple of things have happened today including my neighbour arguing with her partner. Normally I don’t react to things like this which is external to my life, but I’m getting rather emotional.  I don’t like conflict anyway, so to hear two people arguing (over a mobile phone I may add) is upsetting because I don’t want other people to be sad or upset.  There are more important things to be upset about in the world than a phone. Anyway, headphones are in and I’m watching TV hoping to block out their anger and find calm within myself again.  Think this is the first emotional changes I’ve noticed from the tapering so far.

So (touch wood) today hasn’t been too bad in the pain and tiredness department.  Though there has been some thoughts and reflecting going on.  I’ve realised that although this has been a painful process, I needed it. I need to be in this place where I have nothing to do but ride it out and focus on me.  There’s so much to be grateful for right now, there’s so much to change and redirect my life a little.  Once this process of coming off the meds has happened, I know what I need to do.

Little tip: Keep a notepad/journal handy. You’ll reach a point where the words just flow out of you.

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The Meditation Class: Understanding Problems

DSCN0125Last weekend I was at a meditation retreat learning how to have a clear mind.  I must say that I left the retreat with a very calm mind; peace was flowing through me.  I was able to use this feeling to do some revision, which I’m really struggling with at the moment, and also achieve other things that I haven’t been able to for a while.  Like cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients and actually enjoying the experience too.

Yesterday I had a lovely friend come to stay and we went for a long walk through the countryside, looking out at the views and learning how to take photos properly with a camera I’ve had for years and not known how to use it (photo’s on this blog are from the day).  It was a thoroughly wonderful time and we both enjoyed the experience.  Though I wasn’t able to fit in meditation time and felt I was beating myself up over not being able to do formal practice.

Now the weekend retreat gave me the tools to sit down and have formal meditation practice.  It shows you things to look for, what type of objects to meditate on, but it doesn’t tell you how to use meditation in a setting away from the ‘meditation station’.  This was something that was spoken about in tonight’s session, a meditation break as it’s called.

White stillness against the flowing water

White stillness against the flowing water

A meditation break is where you are not formally meditating, as in sitting on a cushion at the ‘meditation station’, though you are going about your daily routine while still thinking about an object of meditation.  So while I was walking through the countryside with my friend, I could have had that brief moment to think about keeping a clear mind.  I mean what more could you ask for when you’re looking over country hills with a friend who also meditates.  It was something that I never even thought about.  Well, I know now.

Pink through the blue

Pink through the blue

This week’s class was taught by Victoria, the teacher from the second half of the retreat.  After getting to understand her way of teaching from the weekend I found it very easy to slip into the class teachings.  Victoria is from Florida and came to England to teach a couple of years ago.  When I say teach here she is a primary school teacher as well as a meditation teacher.

We can all spend time with children and enjoy their innocence to the world, how nothing seems to faze them and they find joy and excitement in everything they see and do.  Though do we ever see them as our teachers? Or mirrors of ourselves?  How do we react to a child that wants you to play with their action figure or at their imaginary tea party? While at first we find it a little uncomfortable, as it’s been a while since we did these things ourselves, it does become easier to slip into this comfortable peaceful world where nothing worries us, or troubles us.


Solitary tree

This can be the same with routine practice of meditation.  We can build this world within our minds that creates the calm that we need in an otherwise stressful world.  We don’t necessary need to play with action figures in our minds eye to bring peace; we can find somewhere just as beautiful such as our favourite beach, woodlands or countryside.  I remember saying to Victoria at the weekend that I have trouble with the imagery of meditation, that I can’t picture a peaceful place.  Tonight I found it, I was able to interact with it when thoughts came to my mind, and I was able to feel the stillness that the scenery brought.  This was a massive achievement for me.

So, the title of the class tonight was understanding problems, how we recognise whether the problems are our own or someone else’s, then how to deal with them.  The example I gave in my last blog about how a car breaking down is the cars problem and not ours was mentioned again.  How do we react to a broken down car? With stress and panic or by remaining calm and finding a solution to getting it fixed, like taking it to a mechanic.  It is how we look at a problem that shows the way that we feel about it and how we then deal with it.

Free flowing ribbons

Free flowing ribbons

Victoria was saying about people who are in our lives that are negative and can’t see the wood for the trees.  These people, just like the children, are our teachers.  They teach us not only that we don’t want to be the same as them, but also we can learn about ourselves and how we react to the stress they may be passing towards you.  I do have someone in my life right now that I think “Why do I listen to this? Why can’t they see the negativity is harming them?” Though I know that if I was to say something it wouldn’t be heard.  So there’s the problem; a friend who is negative, who won’t listen if I was to say something about it, therefore there is nothing more I can do.  So it is then down to me to decide how I react to hearing this negativity to bring peace and calm in my mind.  Of course I can show concern, but essentially it is my calm mind that I have to keep intact.  If there is nothing you can do about a problem, then it isn’t your problem to deal with.  While it is easy for me to write this down and for you to read, it isn’t as easy to put into practice.  Hopefully this will come with time.

Another thing that causes us problems is money.  Yes, we don’t have any or we have too much.  But a lot of people, who do tend to be rich, feel that money is the answer to everything and it brings ultimate peace and happiness.  But does it really?  I must say I find this a little difficult to talk about, especially with the benefits system the way it is and with so many people struggling financially everyday, but I think it’s worth talking about.  We place attachments on money; yes it pays the bills and keeps a roof over our heads, though it’s more than that.  It’s also about status.

Busy Spider

Busy Spider

Recently I was at a training course that was not with my immediate peers, it was people from different universities coming together.  During the ‘intro round’ people were saying who they were and what course they were on.  While a majority of the attendees were doing psychology there was a mixed bag of courses being studied.  Though you could tell that judgements were being made from people based solely on the course titles alone.  For example, someone studying English Literature got a querying “Oh, what made you study that?” response, whereas the mention of Medicine or Medical Physiology got an enthusiastic “Oh wow, that’s amazing!” answer.  As Victoria said tonight, people can hear what the status is and either side line those thought to be of ‘lower income level at the end’ compared to those who ‘may make a lot of money’.

But why should someone’s status affect how you treat them?  Regardless of the how much they earn, or what degree they take, they are all human beings struggling to find their place in life.  I say struggle here more as a fighting to get what they want out of life, not necessarily that they are struggling with other things.  Life is a struggle, it will throw things at you that you don’t want or don’t expect.  It will bring people into your life that you may find hard going, need support or are over excitable for you to deal with at that time.  Though it’s how you deal with it that matters.  It’s how you can control your mind to give you the inner peace and calmness that gets you through each and every day.  If you’re stressed and unhappy then it makes the daily routine hard to cope with.  If you have peace and stillness inside then it make life that little bit easier.


Leafy coverings

Now I know this is a mental health blog and that by me saying meditation bring stillness, calm and helps you through life’s stresses may not be quite fitting.  I do understand that there are things that are beyond our control and meditation isn’t always the answer to them.  So I’m not saying to start a meditation course as it will answer all the problems that mental health brings, because I know it doesn’t.  From my own experience of mental health, I know that meditation has been of great benefit to me.  It has brought the calmness to my mind that I need that then helps me deal with the other problems mental health brings.  I know that I can keep my road to recovery nice and straight instead of the wiggly roads that used to appear in my mind.


It’s a ducks world

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The Retreat

Tara Kadampa Cetre 1

Tara Kadampa Cetre 1

This weekend I have been to a Buddhist meditation retreat in the Midlands, which is something I would have loved to have done before now.  I booked a similar retreat with the same centre last year and due to ill health I had to cancel at the last minute.  I wasn’t upset that I had lost the money I’d already paid for it.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t go knowing that it would have done so much for my health, especially due to the reason for cancelling was my mental health.  So this time, even with the bouts of anxiety about attending, I made sure I went.  To say that I am now peaceful within myself is an understatement.

The weekend started with an evening meal, and while we made jokes there was no ham in the pea soup it was the best start to the weekend possible.  It brought three of us together; a first time meditator, someone who appeared to tour Buddhist centres and myself who I would say dabbles with meditation.  I have recently discussed with close friends my fear of being around new people and not knowing how to hold a conversation.  I guess it’s the fear of saying something stupid and looking a fool.  You know that saying that your first impression of people is made in the first however many seconds of speaking; that.  I surprised myself at how easily the conversation flowed between us.  While we had our differences, we also had our similarities.  It was these similarities that brought us closer over the rest of the weekend.

Unsure of what was happening next and where to go, we found ourselves following the nuns to the main meditation room.  At first I was a little uneasy of walking into an unknown room, though the thing that sticks in my head is walking in bare foot.  Yes, I wore socks for the rest of the weekend.  Not just because of showing bare feet in front of Buddha but I have a terrible problem with cold feet.  The session was an introduction to the weekend ahead and we were taught by Dwayne; a resident teacher and Buddhist himself.  The experience was very similar to the weekly sessions that I go to in town; a breathing meditation, a talk and a deeper meditation.  This really did settle any nerves and I felt good inside.  The first time meditator felt scared as she didn’t know what to expect, but afterwards she said she felt the stress and anxiety about going somewhere new had drained out of her and felt a comforting level of peace settle within.

The next morning we met for breakfast reporting that we slept like a dream.  While my bed was strangely short, it was a small room with an undersized bed, I had no problem getting off to sleep and felt refreshed when I woke.  This is something that I have not had in a very long time.  Around the breakfast table the original three became six.  A multitude of meditation experience was being shared around the table from those who have formal practice of sitting for 30 minutes to an hour every day to those who grabbed five minutes in the morning and five in the evening before bed.  Again, my fears of making conversation simply did not exist and everything seemed to flow and was so natural.  Then we were on to the next session, socks on hand, or should I say feet.

The day started off slow and I did find it hard to concentrate for the meditations which I put down to either morning medication hangover or the lack of proper coffee in the veins.  Though I was able to learn some important points from the teaching; the favourite among us being “Happiness is an inside job.”  There was also an analogy that stuck which was this: Imagine your car has broken down.  That is the car’s problem, not yours.  You chose how to react to the car breaking down. Do you methodically find an engineer or do you stress over it? It’s that simple as to how we control external influences in our lives and how they affect our emotions.

During one of the morning breaks we sat down and spoke with Dwayne in an informal setting.  He was telling us about his journey through Buddhism, how he came to find it and the different Kadampa centres he and his family lived at.  He explained that he followed Zen Buddhsm for 20 years and was happy following this.  Though, he wasn’t aware of New Kadampa Buddhism, until about ten years ago, as this is a relatively new branch to the Buddhism family.  He explained that in Zen Buddhist meditation they teach you to meditate to find a clear mind, which he was happy with for a long time.  Though deepening his knowledge he found New Kadampa Buddhist meditation which not only teaches you to clear your mind but also gives you the tools to work with when you have this clear mind.  I found this enlightening as I have been working on my own clearing of the mind to calm the ‘monkey mind’, though hadn’t thought of what to do with the mind once it was clear.  New Kadampa is my first insight into Buddhism and I really am finding it beneficial to my mental health needs.

As the day went on, the six of us sat in the lessons meditating, sharing experiences of the teachings and the meditations, drinking really nice herbal tea and walking the grounds.  Being aware of other people on the course we would stop and have a chat with them too, but it felt as though we had really made an impact on each others lives; just by being there and sharing the experience together.  Lunch was another extraordinary meal and the walk after helped us not to fall asleep in sessions, as it was a little heavy on the stomach.

Tara Kadampa Centre 2

Tara Kadampa Centre 2

Though while in the dining room, it was lovely to be around the nuns, monks and community who live there.  There are about 50 people who live on the site, varying with their role in the community.  Some work off site, some teach at the school there, some are children themselves.  While it felt as though the nuns and monks held the daily runnings all together, you could tell that it was team work.  Everyone helped out and chipped in when things needed doing.  The children would get the dust pan and brush out, while the adults were washing up.  The atmosphere was warm, loving and peaceful.  On previous day visits I was aware of the peace that fell upon you when walking down the drive, but being ‘within’ the community gave a greater insight into how this peace is brought about.  It was so friendly with everyone approachable you couldn’t help but smile in return for their hard work.

In the afternoon we changed teachers and we had someone who taught at the school on site; Veronica.  Her way of teaching was different to Dwayne’s, where she would tell us of real life experiences to explain different aspects on the object of meditation.  She told of a child she used to teach who was a little disruptive, every day she would say to him “Today is a new day, bring what you wish to it” and every day he did.  Though one day he was very disruptive, shouting in the class and was eventually sent to the back of the classroom as he was disrupting the learning of the other children.  Nothing was said to him that day, though when he returned the next day he asked “Can I have my morning treat today?” Veronica said “After the way you behaved yesterday, I don’t think you can.”  The child response was “But that was yesterday, today is a new day.”  This handily explained that while you can make amends for the previous day’s actions, it is your choice what you bring to each day.

After another wonderful meal, we were all invited to Puja, the ritual of giving offerings to Buddha.  I would love to say that I went to this, but I can’t.  The reason for attending the weekend was about meditation, and while there was a Buddhist background to the teachings, I felt I couldn’t attend this.  It was more I didn’t want to intrude on something special to the Buddhists.  If this was a prayers session, which other nights of the week are, then I would have attended.  Although we were asked to attend, even by the ‘head monk’, I still felt uneasy about going.  So we all decided on another walk around the grounds.

Tara Kadampa Centre 3

Tara Kadampa Centre 3

Again, another night of sleeping peacefully we all woke for the final day.  This teaching was a repeat of the night before, though the morning hangover got me again.  So, here I’ll tell you about the experience I had of it from the night before.  It was two meditations brought together as one; Body of Light and The Root Mind.  To start you find your breathing, get comfortable and relaxed, which then leads you to examine the inside of your body.  I found this a little difficult to start as I was examining it through the med student eyes; I was identifying where all the organs were and labelling them in my mind, I had to let that go.  Once we ‘felt’ the insides of our body we had to let them dissolve into a body of light.  This alone brought peace, warmth and as though my insides were expanding outside of its body.  It was a surreal experience, but comforting at the same time.  Then we were to find our root mind, which we were told was at our heart and not in the brain as we would usually think.  Here we would experience emptiness, a dark hole of nothingness.  While this may sound a little dark compared to the body of light, it brought relaxation and calmness throughout.  This was the meditation I found the easiest throughout, and the most beneficial.  Even when bee’s and wasps got caught in the windows making an almighty noise, I was still in my own little sanctuary of peace.

As the weekend came to an end it was time to say our goodbyes.  I think the most profound moment of the goodbyes was from the lady I met on the first night.  Watching her walk in the dining room on day one, scared, timid and very obviously frightened of the unknown that was about to come.  She was this confident, brave woman that shone brightness and calm through every inch of her.  To watch her grow over the space of two days was amazing, and to me shows the true impact meditation can have on a person.  While she was stressed from her outside life before, she now has the strength, knowledge and tools to tackle everyday stresses from within and learn how to manage daily anxieties continuously.

While I wonder what I got out of the weekend, considering the teachings I have on a regular basis are lectures with facts to learn, initially I felt nothing.  Though thinking about it all there is so much I can take from the weekend.  I overcame my fears of going for a weekend retreat, talking with strangers, knowing that I could control the cyclothymia while there, that I can talk openly without fear of being judged.  I have learned the art of meditation, taken tips and knowledge from other people on how they practice and discovered that formal morning practice isn’t for me.  I have this sense of peace and wonder inside me that I don’t ever want to lose, though I have the knowledge that I don’t have to lose it because all the tools have been given to me.

I have gone home with a new meditation cushion, set up my own little ‘meditation station’, and found peace within my flat.  More importantly, I have found peace within my head, something that I have been craving for a long time and that I talk about often with my counsellor.  This peace feels as though it is flowing through my veins and unless I drop all meditation and go back to my old ways, I don’t think will ever leave me.  This weekend has been superb and awe inspiring, something that I do intend on repeating.

Though while this blog comes to an end, I will leave you with this thought:

The mind is consciousness; we are consciously aware of the external world, therefore we witness the universe within our minds.

Tara Kadampa Centre 4

Tara Kadampa Centre 4


The Tool-Box of Self Help

Where am I? I am lost.

For the last couple of weeks I have found myself wondering where I am, what I’m doing and even who I am.  The moods are shifting from one end of the spectrum to the other with the thoughts racing faster than a race car through my brain.  While I crave peace and silence I seem to find it for an hour or two and then I’m back chasing these thoughts again.  I feel as though I am not worthy, not worthy of people’s time and attention, not worthy of people caring for me or me caring for them.  My thoughts are telling me this and it’s hard not to ignore them, though deep down I do know that they are irrational and not to be believed.  However, when they are swinging from the chandeliers singing at the top of their voices, how could they be wrong?

While I scream from within and know that things aren’t right inside, I also know that I can not access help and support from mental health services because I’m “too high functioning.”  How can that be? I have cyclothymia and struggle each and every day.  Just because I’m at uni and stable on my medication shouldn’t rule me out of accessing NHS care.

So as I explore methods and practices to regain peace and stillness within, I have also ponder on the negative thought processes that come with these methods.  All of these tools I have been taught through the various forms of therapy, self help and support from friends over the years.  I remember something that was mentioned at a meditation class last year “If you want something enough then you will work hard to achieve it”.  Which is true, you can achieve anything if you set your mind to it but it is believing in yourself enough to get there.

A recent addition to my tool box of self help is journaling.  Something that I had previously put down as my random chatterings through blogging, but actually when you think about it there’s so much I share with my journal that I wouldn’t share here.  Not that I don’t want to share certain things with you, it’s just some of it only my head would understand.  At times when my head is going a hundred miles an hour, the thought of stopping to pick up a pen and write seems ridiculous.  How can I stop and be still for five minutes?  How can I write in the journal productively and get something out of it?

When I started journaling I was writing as though it was revision, I had to set myself tasks and answer questions and even give myself a topic to work on through the next couple of days.  Though it wasn’t getting me anywhere, it felt like a chore and didn’t enjoy it.  So I just started writing what came to my head.  I have many a conversation with myself (usually having half hour chats to myself in the mirror), so instead talking at myself I started to write them down.  When I get angry, lonely, anxious or any other negative emotion I would sit with my journal and pretty pens to write.  I write and don’t stop until I feel I have got it all out.  It is so therapeutic because while you’re writing you can think about things and process it, you can then let the new thoughts take you further into the writing.  An old saying “Externalising the internalisation”, and it works; just don’t over think the process of doing it.

Argh, healthy eating! Everyone tells you that healthy eating is good for the mind, body and soul.  But what actually is healthy eating? I’m doing medical physiology and therapeutics at university, so there is lots of information about macro and micro nutrients, proteins and amino acids to plough through.  When you get that in depth about what is good and what is not it can be overwhelming and you can get easily lost.  Though even thinking about it at the level that the NHS healthy eating service taught me through my GP practice, it is still too much to take in.  I’m not sure whether I have a problem with chocolate or it’s the medication talking, but I could very easily live on a diet of creme eggs (they’re eggs, they’re healthy right?).  Even going food shopping can be a chore because you don’t know what’s exactly in your food, the microwave stuff or even the ‘fresh’ stuff too.

My rule of thumb when I go food shopping is if you don’t know what an ingredient is on the labelling then it’s not good for you.  Though that is sometimes a hindrance when I’ve done chemistry and nutrition at uni and I know what chemicals are.  So when my mood is low and I pluck up enough energy and courage to walk over to the supermarket (which is a two minute walk from home), I always walk through the fruit and veg section before I get to the chocolate.  Sometimes seeing it there helps place that little idea of “This is healthy food, it will help your mood better than the chocolate”.  So I buy some and it then sits and stares at me at home too, sometimes I eat it before it goes mouldy as well.

The good old exercise malarkey.  Activity will help your mind settle and it’s also good for your health. Meh.  I was doing an assignment for uni not so long ago about how physical movement can be hampered when you over catastrophise pain expectation and therefore limit the amount of physical activity you do.  Having a diagnosis of fibromyalgia myself, I can totally see this.  Though one article had a definition of exercise that I think we should all take note of is “Physical activity is the movement that we do in everyday activities, such as walking to and from work, washing up and personal hygiene.  Whereas exercise is a planned activity like going to the gym, having a run or doing yoga.”  So when you read that exercise is good for your mental health, is it exercise they mean or are they on about increasing your physical activity?

I know for me going to the gym has its own difficulties, usually thought related such as “They’re all better than me” or “They’re going to watch me and laugh.”  So it takes great effort and confidence to build up the courage to go.  I’d rather go for a walk or do some yoga at home.  While this is isolating in itself as they’re individual activities, they do actually do some good because you are moving and you are increasing your physical activity.  When my head tells me not to move, just stay in bed a little longer, I try to get out and see the sun.  Even if its take the longer route than the two minute walk to get the creme eggs, it is a longer route and I get to appreciate the feeling of the sun on my face.

Where am I? Even though I do actually have a plan of attack for this blog (I don’t usually bother with that), I’m rambling.  Ah well, stops the negative thoughts entering my head.  Next…

Mindfulness.  Yes, that great new tool that the world is banging on about.  Even global organisations are now cashing in on it to boost their employee’s productivity to make them more money. Yay!  Though, to a lay man, what actually is it?  Sitting still, clearing the mind and saying “Ohm” a lot?  Nah.  Once upon a time I was sat in a bipolar support group that I used to run with a guest speaker to talk about mindfulness.  He asked the group what is mindfulness and I stupidly put my hand up and answered “It’s where when you’re washing up you appreciate the washing up bubbles on yours hands and feel every grain of dirt being lifted of the dishes”.  Ok, maybe not so stupid, but I don’t think that was what he was getting at.  It is about being aware of what is in front of you, around you and appreciating it in that moment in time.

When the head is racing and thoughts flying around, the last thing you want to do is to stop to appreciate the wind on your face or the smell of freshly cut grass.  With the world going at a fast pace and with work demands on the increase why would you pay someone to teach you to stop and sit still?  Unfortunately, where I live there are no local mindfulness courses so I’m reliant on meditation classes, books and the interweb.  It’s mish mashing several tools to create one thing that is available in other parts of the country.  But would I still pay for a mindfulness course if there was one locally? Oh yes!  It helps you see that there is more in the world than work, deadlines and stress.  It shows you that there is love and peace in the world.  At a meditation class recently I was taught that to find inner peace you need to find mindfulness.  I strongly believe this is to be true, so I will continue with the multiple ways of finding mindfulness so that I can find this peace I so desperately crave.

Here’s one of the basics for you; breathing.  Yes, we do it every day and yet we don’t appreciate it for what it’s worth, which is so much more than clearing and emptying the lungs.  Here’s a random fact for you that I’ve been dying to tell someone; we don’t actually breathe to live, we breathe the clear out the carbon dioxide that is created when we are producing energy through glycolysis.  So it’s the breakdown of glucose and the production of energy that keeps us alive.  Random eh?  Anyway, off on a tangent there.  Breathing; so it’s there all the time and we can forget about doing it because we don’t consciously make it happen.  But when you sit still and focus on your breathing you can let your thoughts and feelings disappear for that short space of time, and longer.

Though when you’re stressed can you really sit still and focus on one thing?  With the thoughts racing through your mind while you feel the breath entering and leaving, how could they possibly stop?  They can’t and you can’t stop them from continuing to annoy you when you’re finding peace.  But you can accept them and welcome them with loving kindness, then ask them to move on for a while.  I have this fear of being in crowded spaces when I can’t find the escape route.  What if there’s a fire and I’m trapped?  This brings on panic attacks and the anxiety shoots through the roof.  Though I know that the anxiety and adrenaline can only be pumped through the body for so long and during this time I find a quiet spot against a shop window and focus on the breath.  Sure enough it works, the anxiety reduces and I can continue.  Either that or I run for my life out of the building and then find the breath.  I think what I’m saying here is, don’t forget the breath.  It has more importance to you than just keeping your glycolytic system on the go.

And finally a fun one (I hear a sigh of relief from you all due to the length of this); dress to impress.  When the depression kicks in all you want to do is stay in bed or sit on the sofa with the TV blaring daytime shows that we’re not actually watching or listening to.  Though what is the usual favourite type of clothing for this?  We go for comfort clothing when the brain is so tired of fighting, which is a natural thing to do.  I tend to go for jogging bottoms and t-shirt or stay in the PJ’s all day.  Why dress up when we’re not going anywhere, seeing anyone or have a daily plan of action?

A friend taught me this one, and I must say it’s my favourite by far.  We tend to ‘dress to impress’ other people; socialising, work or interviews.  How often do we do it for ourselves?  We don’t.  To me clothing is something I have to do, and usually there’s no enjoyment about throwing on a pair of jeans and top.  Especially when you’re trying to make them match so that you’re, you guessed it, impressing other people.  So when I’m feeling low I tend to try out the routine of showering moisturising, finding nice underwear, doing my hair, splashing on some perfume and treating myself by wearing a pretty dress.  It’s amazing how good you feel, not just because you’ve taken time and effort to look good, but because you’ve done this for you.  You don’t have to please anyone except yourself, so try this and see how good it feels to impress yourself.

And at nearly a 2000 word essay here (sorry for the length of this blog), I find myself rambling on about things in my tool box for recovery and not sure whether I achieved what I wanted to when I began typing.  I do know that the concentration that I have put in to writing this has taken my mind off the negative thoughts and I have found some form of peace.  These tools have helped me in the past and I need to remember each and every one of them for when times are getting tough.  The last few weeks have really been a challenge, not knowing where I actually am on this bipolar spectrum and whether thoughts are real or not.  I know that I have taken out these thoughts on people who mean so much to me and for that I am sorry.  While I feel lucky that these people know about the condition so they understand the rapid cycling and random thought processes, I also feel guilty for either offloading on them or pushing them away.

With the tools under my belt, I know that I can find an even keel to the moods and I can gain control again.  A big long hard battle ahead, but one thing I must remember:

“Thoughts are not facts.”

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The Meditation Class: What Is Love?

I admit that I have fell behind in attending meditation classes, though with a revelation that came out of counselling this week I felt the need to get back to it.  So when tonight’s class hit exactly the problem I’m addressing I feel calm and at ease with myself right now.

Counselling touched upon the fact that I’m searching for inner peace in the wrong ways, ways that I don’t feel able to talk about, but still searching in the wrong places.  It is the peace and calmness of the mind that I crave, the stillness and ability to be quiet without the mind going a hundred miles an hour and the continual chatter interrupting every day life.

Today’s meditation class was about love and concentration.  The teacher first spoke about love, which I think I’ve touched upon in previous blogs about the meditation classes.   The fact that we can place happiness on non-virtuous objects and that we can hold ideas and beliefs in our mind that these objects will bring us the happiness and peace that we are looking for.  Though they do not bring us the peace we are looking for, they bring us anger, hurt and pain.  Say you place happiness on a non-virtuous object as another human, we believe that by making this person happy it will in turn bring us happiness.  Though when this human does something that we don’t like or agree with, that is when we hurt or become angry.  So instead we need to focus on virtuous objects such as love, where we learn to love ourselves from within and by bringing our own happiness we can be still and at peace.  This also allows us to offer our love to other humans, so that we can wish them well and wish that they are at peace and have happiness.  We are not reliant on other people to bring us the calm that we crave.

The breathing meditation really brought me into the room.  It allowed calm to enter me and I could feel all the stress that has been building up inside float out of me.  The tension that has been building up escaped and I could see clearly, or hear clearly, what the remainder of the class was being taught.

I feel I need to point out that the class this week was in another room as there was a rock concert on below the room that we usually use.  The reason for pointing this out will become apparent later.

The main topic of the week was concentration, how to achieve it and what it means to concentrate.  He started by making the connection that to find peace you need concentration, and for concentration you need mindfulness.  Not a connection that I had made myself, but it does make sense.

Starting from the top; mindfulness, what is it?  It’s the ability to focus on one object or project and keep that attention fixed.  Though this is easier said than done.  While, as he pointed out, the breathing meditation that we do at the start of the class is not your typical Buddhist meditation, as you are not focusing on virtuous objects, it is a great place to start when learning the art of mindfulness; the art of keeping your mind fixed on one object.  By focusing on the breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils, it allows you to remain with one place at one time.  The mind will naturally wonder off, so by bringing your attention back to the breath you can practice mindfulness.  While you bring your attention away from the thoughts that enter your mind, you shouldn’t dismiss the thoughts.  They are there for a reason, maybe you’re thinking about what to have for tea or the quickest journey home from work, and while they are genuine concerns that you need to consider they are not for that moment in time.  By acknowledging that you will decided on what you want to eat once you’ve finished the meditation, you can then bring your mind back to the breath.

By working on your mindfulness you can then work on your concentration.  The teacher likened it to when you’re doing an art project, one of those miniature art sets where you have to make sure the eyebrows are in the right place.  His analogies are superb by the way.  When you are fixed on making sure you have the right amount of paint on the brush, that your eyes are focused ready for such small amount of work and you are adding the eyebrows you realise that the rest of the world feels non-existent.  This is because you are concentrating and it’s this concentration you need to bring to your meditation on a virtuous object.  When you are wishing that all people in the rest of the world are well, healthy and happy you are doing this with the same level of concentration.  While you are meditation on wishing the rest of the world well, you are not aware of the rest of the world.

Finally we moved onto peace, which is the area that I am chasing in my own world.  Concentration comes with time and practice.  Imagine that you are making a cup of tea and without any concentration at all the tea bag will end up in the bin and the hot water all over the stove.  So there must be some level of concentration there to actually get the tea bag and the hot water in the cup.  Though when you leave the tea bag to brew, the flavour of the tea leaves enhances and the taste becomes even better.  Tea bag of happiness, strength and peace.  This is the same for finding peace; the more you are mindful, the more you concentrate the more you will find peace.  You just need to keep brewing the tea bag.

The final meditation was about wishing the rest of the world peace and happiness.  As we over ran it was a very short meditation, which in a way was good for me because of the change of room it was very hot and stuffy and I was ready to fall asleep mid mediation.  The object of the meditation was “I wish that all the people in all the world was happy” and when we found in our minds eye the peace and happiness we were to stay with it, to concentrate.  Also even with the room change we could still hear the rock band downstairs, so rather aptly when the lead singer was shouting at the top of his lungs “Get the hell out of here” as though he was in the middle of a fight scene in a movie all my love and peace was sent in his direction.  I sent him happiness and wished him well, he soon stopped shouting.

While I said previously that the mindfulness and concentration allow you to forget the outside world while you explore your own happiness, directing the happiness to the lead singer may not have been what the teacher meant.  But, as he reminded us all the way through, we have just placed the tea bag in the hot water.  We are in the brewing process and it takes time to perfect the art of mindful meditation.

I am glad that I went back to the classes tonight, I feel that it is something that is well over due and hopefully I can work on my own inner peace and happiness leaving behind the cravings and negative behaviours I’ve been using to find this peace.

The Meditation Class: Week Three

The Meditation Class: Week Two

The Meditation Class: Week One