Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Not All Spoons Are Created Equal

The last few months, I haven’t been doing so well mentally. My anxiety has been through the roof, and looking back at some of my thought patterns, I think I’ve also been struggling with depression. These are not exactly new things to me – I’ve lived with anxiety and depression since I was a teenager – but I’m usually more aware of what’s going on and can therefore manage it. This time it seemed to be escalating dramatically for no reason. But when I look at it properly, with a bit of perspective, this didn’t come out of nowhere. 

I’ve been really busy this year, what with taking on multiple new students, studying, and publishing my first novel. The stress of having to so much to do, so much to learn, and having to keep multiple to-do lists at the front of my mind, started to get to me, and I felt like I was haemorrhaging spoons most of the time. My last post was about trying to get better at remembering to count spoons, and so I tried to cut out anything unnecessary, in order to save energy.

This should have worked. Reducing what I was doing should have left me with more spoons, and feeling more able to manage things. Instead I think it had the opposite effect. I felt more stressed, more anxious, and slipped deeper into negative feelings and fatigue. As this has gotten worse, my self-esteem has been plummeting. I found myself struggling to leave the house, having panic attacks at the thought of having to catch a bus, and reducing the number of people I talked to until I could count them on less than one hand. I also started to find holding conversations hard, as I’d done very little except sit at a computer screen doing admin all day, and felt like I had nothing interesting to talk about. 

This isn’t me. Despite all of my illnesses and challenges, I am usually someone who lives widely. I’m someone who’s pretty comfortable going off by myself to events, talking to strangers, and have a pretty amazing group of wonderful friends. I enjoy trying new things, and have done many things which others find far too scary.

So what was happening here? Why was reducing what I was doing increasing, rather than alleviating, my anxiety? 

I’ve come to realise that not all spoons are created equal. Most of what I cut out was the fun, social stuff. I lean towards being a bit introverted, needing time to recharge after doing things involving other people, and so these do tend to take more spoons for me. This seemed like the obvious stuff to cut out, but I hadn’t taken into account what these things give me. Going out with friends, meeting new people, or going to events brings a lot of positivity and inspiration into my life, which offsets the tiredness that comes with it. 

It probably also didn’t help that I was working and studying by myself from home, which meant I wasn’t even going outside for days at a time. I think if I had just been outside walking to work every day, or in an office with colleagues, it probably would have offset at least some of what I was feeling.

It hasn’t all been bad. Publishing my novel has been an incredible experience, and I’m very lucky to have had the work and study opportunities I’ve had this year. I also have some amazing people in my life, who have been there through this period. Looking back, I can see I have been disconnecting though. My emotional state had been making it hard to be present in any situation, as I get stuck in anxiety loops in my own head. 

When it comes down to it, this isn’t something other people can fix, but spending time with people rather than isolating myself is going to be a big part of getting myself back on track. It’s also important for me to be doing things other than work. For the moment, that’s taking the form of going to talks, shows and other interesting events. I remember writing a few years ago about another period where I had been isolating myself after some stress, and how much it helped going to events where you don’t really have to talk to people, just go and listen. I’m hoping this will also be the case again, and with time all forms of socialising will get easier too.

Looking back at my old blog posts, I feel like I’ve been getting myself into bad situations with my health and mental health again and again over the last few years. Last night I couldn’t help but think of the saying “A lesson will repeat itself until it is learned.” I felt a bit defeatist, knowing I keep putting myself into the same bad places, and seemingly not learning my lesson. But today as I’m writing this, and looking back at my old posts, I know that each time things have gotten out of control with my health or mental health, I have learned a little more. I have taken a little more responsibility for my own part in it, and I have got myself back on track a little quicker each time. 

Perhaps my learning still isn’t done yet. It may be that I do need to encounter this lesson again, before I fully understand it, or perhaps I am done, and have finally learned what I need to. Either way, I can at least learn this part of it – to stop isolating myself and realise that fun and adventure are just as important to my wellbeing as rest and saving spoons – and I can keep making changes for the positive.
Thanks for reading,
Little Miss Autoimmune

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