Category Archives: Mental health

Please don’t judge how I eat my bread

How often are we reminded “not all disabilities are visible”? Yet I’ve heard too many stories of people who need to use the accessible toilet being tutted at as they exit. You can’t see a stoma, you can’t see urinary urgency, you can’t see menorrhagia – it’s none of your business why someone needs to use the accessible toilet.

Have you ever given the person stepping out of their car in the “blue badge” car parking space a sideways glance? You can’t see COPD, you can’t see autism, you can’t see chronic fatigue. There are plenty of people who need to use the disabled spaces who don’t use a wheelchair, it’s not your place to police of the blue badge scheme.

I felt mortified as I nibbled the inner soft section of my bread roll when in a posh restaurant. I repositioned the crusty portions back together because I felt embarrassed I couldn’t finish the beautiful handmade roll. I don’t know what the chef thought when the waitress took my plate back to the kitchen. They probably thought I was just another fussy customer, I doubt they guessed I had a fractured jaw! Sucking the soft inner portion of the bread caused excruciating pain, there was no way I could chew the crust! (I didn’t know I had a fractured jaw at the time – I wouldn’t have gone to a posh restaurant if I’d known!)

Do you feel frustrated with your grumpy colleague?

Did you think the lady in front of you at the checkout overreacted when the cashier made a mistake?

Do you wonder why that person never joins in at your hobby group?

Perhaps you think your neighbour is a bit odd? You maybe fed up of them not cutting their hedge/parking their car in an awkward position/being loud late at night etc…

Maybe you think there’s no excuse for rudeness but my point is that we can never truly know what’s going on for someone else. All sorts of things can make someone act in a particular way but who are we to judge someone else?

You know what I really hate?! People who tailgate! But you know what? I’ve stopped judging them. I don’t know what’s happened to make them try to push me along the road faster than the speed limit. Maybe they’re trying to get a labouring woman to hospital? Maybe their dog threw-up before they left for work and made them late and their boss will unreasonably fire them for being late once? I could curse and get angry but why waste my energy?

I’m often asked why I’m so quiet. It’s because I’m listening. Everyone has a unique story to tell. I’m fed up of being judged. Listening to each other leads to understand, understanding leads to compassion. How much nicer is to have compassion for one another rather than judgment? All we need to do is listen!

Perhaps you could ask your colleague if there’s anything you could do to lighten their load? They might open up about why they’re feeling grumpy, they might just tell you to ***off but the fact that you tried but be the best thing that happened to them that day!

Instead of tightening you clique at your hobby group, invite the shy attendee in, they might not say much so what’s the harm? Inclusion rather than exclusion is so much kinder.

That awkward neighbour?! I think it’s safe to say, most people have at least one tricky neighbour! Sometimes you need to think outside the box! Perhaps take round a bottle of wine or invite them for a BBQ? At some point, try to talk about the tricky issue but remember, until you hear their story, try not to make assumptions, you don’t know why they’re behaving the way they do!

Extroverts talk, introverts think

An introvert in an extrovert world

I feel like I don’t fit in. I struggle to be with people, I feel totally exhausted all the time, just existing. There are many reasons but one is that I’m an extreme introvert struggling to function in a world build for extroverts.

Some people would call me painfully quiet, shy or anti-social, but I find their loud approach to life over the top, overwhelming and exhausting.

Others may fear being on their own and struggle with loneliness; for me, solitary time is vital for my health and it’s a relief to shut the door at the end of the day.

The difference between introverts and extroverts is from where they recharge their energy. Extroverts gain their energy from other people, introverts recharge on their own.

A cartoon girl sat looking out the window with a warm drink and her cat. With the quote “I literally love being at home. In my own space. Comfortable. Not surrounded by people.”

The world sees extroversion as a gift because they mistakenly connect loudness with confidence and happiness; people don’t understand quietness because no one sees what goes on behind the scenes, they think it’s a flaw. Listening is a dying art. Being thoughtful, respectful and taking the time to understand each other seem to be happening less and less.

Everyone has something to say, extroverts easily get their voices heard, introverts naturally listen. When someone does finally listen to me, I’m so taken aback, my heart races, I get tongue tied and struggle to even put a sentence together (but that’s not just introversion, that’s social anxiety too – not all introverts have social anxiety!).

While extroverts feel connection when they fill space with small talk, it does nothing for me except sap my energy.

Low battery, cartoon characters lying flat on the floor

As the world moves towards open plan offices, hot desking and networking parties the only way to progress is to be “out there”, to have a “big personality” and to give your energy to the world. Where in the world do I fit if my energy is sapped by my chronic illness and when faced with people my battery runs to empty?

For those who speak softly it’s easy to blend into the background, people may assume you don’t have anything to say or that you don’t like them but introverts work better one on one. If you don’t know that about yourself, an introvert can feel broken in rooms full of people who just seem to know what to do.

Introverts can enjoy a party, just like extroverts but not everyone has to be “the life a soul”. If, as an introvert, you leave a few parties early because you’re tired and this is misunderstood and people stop inviting you – is that ok?

The science

Some science that supports the introvert/extrovert feelings involves 2 chemicals in the brain, dopamine and acetylcholine. Dopamine is like a hit of energy when we take risks or meet new people; extroverts feel great when this peaks in the brain, introverts are more sensitive to the effects of dopamine and easily feel overstimulated. Introverts prefer the slow burn from acetylcholine that is released when we concentrate or do things that focus our minds; we feel relaxed, alert, content. The release of acetylcholine during these activities barely registers with extroverts.

Reading a book in the sun by the sea
Are you an ambivert?

I’ve recently been listening to a series of podcasts where ever guest has been asked if they consider themselves an extrovert or an introvert and people have said things like “I used to be an extrovert but I think I’m an introvert” or “I try to be an extrovert” or “sometimes I’m a bit of both”, these people are probably ambiverts. It’s a shame that the majority of people feel the need to behave as an extrovert and gives weight to the argument that the world is built for extroverts. If all people were valued equally and given paces to be themselves we could feel more comfortable. An ambivert is someone in the middle of the spectrum, someone who can gain energy from being by themselves or with people.

Most people are probably ambiverts but it’s ok to have slight or extreme tendencies to introversion of extroversion!

We just have to find coping strategies

Introverts and extroverts can manage a busy chaotic work life and enjoy a buzzing party late into the night, we just have to find ways to cope. I, for example, take a break, away from my colleagues in the middle of the day. While others may want to connect more over lunch and have FOMO, I value time on my own. I have to fight the fear of being seen as anti-social, people makes comments such as “where do you go?” in a tone that says “why would you do anything other than socialise with us?!”. Unfortunately, because introverts are seen as aloof or maybe sanctimonious, I hide my reason with “I need some fresh air” – which is also true! I have no idea how anyone can spend all day inside!

It takes longer to get to know me, I have fewer friends with deep connections, I think inside my head, my brain sifts information before I talk about it but does this mean I cannot be a valued member of society?

While I’m proud to be an introvert and I’m content with my coping strategies, it saddens me that because I don’t fit into the extrovert world it’s assumed I’m the one that’s wrong. We’re not all the same, so, next time you come across someone who’s a bit “odd”, a bit “different”, a bit “weird”, don’t label them, give them space, listen to them, don’t rush them, value them.

How did colouring save my life?

This year, 4th-10th October is Occupational Therapy week!

If you’ve heard of Occupational Therapy, you may think about physical health aids such as a commode or guide rails, or maybe basketweaving, but they’re so much more!

The Royal College of Occupational Therapists says:

“Occupational therapists provide practical support to help you do the activities that matter to you. They will consider all of your needs – physical, psychological, social and environmental. Their support can make a real difference giving a renewed sense of purpose, opening up new horizons, and changing the way you feel about the future.”

When mentally ill, you may think you’ll see a psychiatrist or psychologist but the nature of mental illness means a multidisciplinary approach is the best and most successful.

The way that you occupy your time can profoundly impact your mental health. I’ve had contact with occupational therapy during prolonged hospital admissions.

One of the most helpful psychological techniques I’ve used is mindfulness but it can be incredibly difficult, when you mind is sick, to try mindfulness for 10 seconds, let alone a couple of minutes. When most unwell I needed something easier to engage with…

When an occupational therapist first introduced me to colouring, I feared it was a little childish and thought I‘d find it hard to concentrate. But I reserved judgment and gave it a go. I’ve been hooked ever since. Colouring was a simple enough activity, I could engage with it and it enabled me to switch off from my spiralling thoughts. It has a calming effect and therefore reduces symptoms of anxiety without much effort! It can also improve motor skills and vision and also boasts to improve sleep!

Ultimately, mindfulness guides you to be able to focus on your breath but mindful activity can be just as beneficial. Mindful colouring meant I focused my mind; continued practice of mindfulness enables us to remain in the here and now rather than dwelling in the past or worrying about the future.

I was seriously unwell so I had to take medication, work hard in psychotherapy and use a lot of other techniques but colouring was the thing I turned to when I couldn’t muster the strength to do anything else. If I’d used every ounce of energy to get out of bed, showered and dressed, I didn’t have any energy left but I didn’t want to just sit in front of the TV; colouring didn’t require me to use any energy, but it helped keep my mind occupied. It played an important part in me beginning to rebuild my life, 1 tiny step at a time.

Plus, I started to feel quite proud of the results, boosting my self esteem along the way!