Two words got me through this year

Reflecting back on this year, two words gratitude and patience stand out. Their meanings have become very apparent.

Gratitude – When I notice everything around me. I feel grateful. I’m laid in bed right now but I’m grateful I have shelter while the rain pours outside; I’m grateful my dog is lying next to me (even better she is on her own side); I’m grateful to be wrapped in a cosy duvet, safe and warm. These things are small but it is this detail that has helped get me through this year.

I had a blessing bowl in my living room. Each day I wrote down 3 things that I was grateful for. After doing this for a month I realised that no matter what happened in that day, there was always something to be thankful for.

*Harris (2007) states: “count your blessings and feel the richness around you”. Feeling grateful helps me see my world in a better light. It gives me a boost knowing I have what I need and I am okay.

Patience – I don’t mean feeling annoyed because Sex Education finished and its weeks before the next series (I’ll never be that patient). I mean waiting until I have rested enough to be able to do a thing. Yesterday we bought a Christmas tree. Like most, I was excited to get home and decorate the tree but I grew too tired and rested instead. Tomorrow’s another day.

These qualities had such a great effect on me, but why?

The psychology bit…Our minds can influence our emotions. Good feelings can be from the smallest of things; tidying a room or watching the sunset. Our health comes first. Stuff can wait. If we stop to appreciate everything around us, feel good hormones are released and our mood is boosted.

Pics taken from the book: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (2019).

*Russ Harris. The Happiness Trap (2007).

Friends, why are you so crap?

Time and time again I hear from fellow chronic illness sufferers how over time they have lost their friends. I’m not talking acquaintances who they met through work or at the local pub. I mean people who they’ve spent years getting to know, who they told secrets to, laughed, shared jokes and be silly with. People who once loved and accepted them and all their quirks. These friends are not there now. They gave up trying to make arrangements for them to be cancelled, they stopped calling when the phone wasn’t answered, they grew impatient when texts weren’t returned the same day, they got angry when the other person said the pub was too busy for them, they got bored when the other person could only manage a quiet café to meet up. They stopped inviting the other person to social gatherings and since they no longer meet up regular, they eventually stop all contact.

And why? Because the other person got sick?

Now I do understand that it is hard for the well person to get what they need from a friendship (companionship, support, trust, dependency) when the other person is sick. But what I don’t understand is the complete abandonment! A sick person can no longer be reliable through no fault of their own, so why add to their problems?

There are things that can be done to give each person something of what they need. You just have to think a little out of the box.

To the well person

1)Try making a plan B that way you won’t feel so disappointed if your sick friend cancels your plans. This could be: Altering your plans so your friend feels more comfortable to still meet up. Try a zoom call instead or a phone call with loudspeaker on and a good gossip with a drink and cake. Try it, it’s like they are there with you and makes it a bit different than a usual call; Reaching out to another friend or family member and doing something with them instead. If you know someone is busy, ask them if you can join in/help out; Do something you love or maybe haven’t done in a while try walking, cinema, shopping, games, crafts, baking. Hey maybe bake something and take it round for your sick friend.

2) If you find you cannot meet up at all. You may naturally feel your friendship is drifting apart. That’s ok, it’s normal. Still try to keep in touch. Being unwell takes its toll mentally so a quick message to check in can be all that’s needed to perk up your friend and you’ll get a boost from doing it yourself too. Even if it has been a few weeks or months. Any contact says you are thinking about them and it should be well received.

3) If there is an occasion coming up try and do something that will help your friend feel included. Always invite them. Even if you are certain they won’t show up. Give them chance to decide themselves. They will always appreciate an invite and may actually be able to make one event. It will be something they can look forward to and create a good memory for you both.

4) If they cannot make an occasion try arranging something separate so they can join in the celebrations. Try creating a bedside party room with balloons, games, sweet treats or flowers (if they’re on a special diet). You don’t need to stay long but if the mood permits it could last a few hours especially if a few friends are there too. Remember it is their time so you will need to agree what they feel comfortable with, to not increase their symptoms. Sometimes just being with other people is all that’s needed to boost their spirits.

5) When you do meet up try being neutral in your responses when feelings are expressed. Saying things like ‘’that’s sounds tough for you’’ or ‘’that must be difficult to cope with’’, helps make them feel listened to.

6) If you do ask about their illness, try and read up on it beforehand. It will show you care and that you are trying to learn to help and understand them.

7) Break up heavy topics with conversations on lighter subjects where you can both have a laugh too.

8) If you visit their home, please remember they are unwell so the usual ‘guest’ status does not apply. Be ready to make your own drink and offer to help with anything they may need. Don’t be too forceful though, some people (like me) are stubborn and like to feel we can still do things for others. After an hour ask if they are happy for you to stay. It gives the person chance to say if they need a rest.

(Image from Heavenly Partners)

To the sick person

Friendships work both ways so you need to be mindful on how you behave with your friends too.

1)It is hard to be with someone who constantly complains about their health and issues. It also reinforces negativity to yourself and can pull your own mood down. So, if they ask you how you are, keep it short. Of course, you can have a big rant to air your feelings to them but don’t make it a habit. Mix it up and make sure you have fun to enjoy your time together. Your friend will have their stresses at work and relationships too so having a laugh gives you both a break from this.

2) When you get an invite to meet up. Don’t decline straight away (unless you have plans, of course). Give it some time or tell them it’s unlikely you will make it but you can only decide nearer the time. Be honest with your friend.

3) If you can’t meet up, have an alternative plan in mind. They will see you as putting in effort in seeing them. Saying no to everything will only put people off contacting you in the future.

4) Be kind. Always thank a person for an invite or for contacting you. They will know to keep you in mind next time too.

5) If a friend contacts you after a long time apart. Unless there is good reason to be angry with them or you feel they bring you down in some way, then accept them reaching out to you. I believe in ‘forgiveness’ especially when a person has good intentions. Life can get busy really quickly especially with families, so accept an apology and try to build a bridge. There’s always room for more friends.

6) People will make mistakes during conversations. They can’t truly know what you are going through and will unknowingly invalidate your feelings by saying things like ‘’I know I get tired too’’ or ‘’you’re getting older, you will struggle more’’. Sometimes you just have to bite you lip to avoid tension. Maybe give them some tips on what to say to you. You can judge the right time for this with a person but ultimately so long as you know they are well intentioned; you can often let it slide.

So, whatever you and your friend do and how often you make contact just make sure you still connect on some level. Your friend got sick they didn’t abandon you. Their every day is tough enough so don’t make losing a friend something else they have to go through too.

It’s the start of a new month. Let’s start as we mean to go on.

10 Things I do to boost my mood

It’s autumn and daylight is dwindling, even before the clocks change back. The temptation to snuggle up in bed all day while the rain pours outside is getting harder to resist. I feel even more lethargic and my body shrieks at every attempt I make to come out from under the covers into the cold. As the dark nights draw closer, the ability to keep upbeat gets harder and can so easily bring me down, making me feel fed up.

Search the internet for ideas on how to lift a low mood and results will soon have you outside, exercising and meeting up with people. This is fine when you are fit and able but for us chronically ill this isn’t so easy and often causes more stress than any sense of relief. Gone are the days when I could jump on my bike and head to the hills for a quick thrill and adrenalin fix. I can only slow walk at best now and even that has me suffering in the days after.

These days I don’t have many friends around me and family live away, yet I do still seem to steer round a low mood and it made me think about what I do that could be the reason for this. Here are my top 10 mood boosters:

1.Open the blinds. Every morning (yes 11:45am is still morning) I make sure the blinds are opened. I call this ‘letting in the day’. I don’t know what any day has in store so I let it in and see what it brings. Letting in as much natural light as I can gives me a sense of space, freedom and of living. If I’m sat in the dark, I feel closed off from the world and my mood soon slumps.

2.Change of clothes. I know I’m sick but if I lay in my pyjamas and dressing gown all day, I start to feel grotty. I find clothing can impact my mood. I guess it’s like putting on a suit for work, you feel strong and empowered ready for the day ahead. Wearing bed clothes makes me feel slouchy and sluggish. I also find wearing bed clothes during the day confuses my brain. I don’t feel the sense of winding down like I do when I just got changed into my pyjamas for the night. So, on a good day I make sure I change into day clothes even comfy tracksuit bottoms and a hoody does the trick. On a bad day when I’m really struggling, I find even just putting on fresh undies can feel a little better. [Side note: throw away your raggy knickers! You may be the only one to see them but believe me newer knickers are more secure and they just feel great].

3.Feel the fresh air. Some days I can’t get outside at all but I find opening a window a welcome relief as the house can get stuffy. Even when it’s raining outside, a blast of fresh air wakes up my senses. If I can, I walk the dog, it’s a slow pace but enough to feel the benefit of being out of the house. When I can’t I am often found sitting in my back yard breathing in the fresh air. One large breath in and then slowly out refreshes me as it works its way around my body.

4.Eat well. I’ve been watching my calorie intake as I’m determined not to put on too much weight. My challenge each day is to limit any high calorie foods and also get in my 5 fruit and vegetables each day. If I manage to do this and feel I have eaten well, it gives me a sense of achievement. My hair and nails are in much better condition too, bonus! Overall, a huge feel-good boost to my mood.

5.Occupy myself. My day is so very long. I don’t work and all my activities are limited but somehow, I get through it without feeling too bored. My partner works shifts so I think this is a massive help as he is home half of the day and his banter keeps me smiling. When he isn’t around, I seem to break my day up. 1 hour of TV, 20 minutes sat in silence with a hot drink, 30 minutes of adult colouring, 20 minutes of housework, 1 hour of tv etc (I know total rock and roll life). I try to mix up mental and physical tasks and rest in between. Being unwell has brought out my creativity. When my back was bad, I found glass paining and now that I am too shaky to paint, I colour or stitch and do the garden. When I’m too tired for these, I watch You Tube, listen to music or watch anything light hearted. Comedy is great. The right entertainment lifts my spirits.

No photo description available.
Last year I painted some jars to help raise money for charity.

6.Pamper and learn to enjoy ’you’ time. I love a pamper. It gives me a sense of healing and wellness. I was never a girly girl who practiced hair styles, makeup and doing nails but as I’ve grown older it is definitely something I try to do. I usually keep my finger and toe nails in check each week with a soak and a file but what I really enjoy is a face mask. I go all out. Light up the tea lights (round the bath if I’m up to it), play some gentle music and then lay and relax. It feels like I’m actually resting and healing my body as I enjoy a moment of calm…aah.

7.Limit negativity. I cut out many people in the past who make me feel bad. Now my interactions are with people I am relaxed with and who I find easy to be around and it has really boosted my self-esteem. The same goes for social media too. I try to scroll past anything that triggers an emotional response or that makes me feel inferior. My Facebook interaction is mostly with different groups now. Sharing experiences with chronic illness groups not only helps me but it gives me a chance to help others too. Though I do try to limit my time with this as too much can become overwhelming. Connecting with walking, nature, wildlife and photography groups helps to break up serious chat with easy pictures to look at instead of lengthy moans and rants. My favourite is the Akita group. We have an Akita so it is great to be able to talk and laugh about the things they get up to and this also gives me a break from chronic illness talk. My Illness is doom and gloom but my every day doesn’t have to be. Balance life with fun and laughter.

8.Stop overthinking in its tracks. I sometimes sit and find my thoughts whirling around and either stressing me out or bringing me down. Sometimes I just let these thoughts come a go and not pay attention to them. Other times they are louder so I have to virtually bat them away. For some reason this works and so long as I busy myself, I soon forget about what I was thinking about. This has taken practice to do and the hardest part is snapping out of that thought in the first place. I blame having too much spare time for stirring up past memories and overthinking. After doing my Psychology degree I know they are just thoughts and often our thoughts and memories are skewed so they’re not worth paying attention to. Unless they are good ones, then go ahead daydream away.

9.Chat to friends, family, neighbours. After lockdown I have realised how much socialising benefits me. I made friends with my neighbours and now know most of the street to say hello to. It is good to see people in person but since my good friends are out of my area and I can no longer drive, then WhatsApp is just as good. We have so many ways to socialise these days, I find any interaction gives me a boost and distracts from my illness.

10.Finally, I can’t help but mention my dog, Kita the Akita. My partner helps to walk and look after her but having a pet fills the home with joy. Our dog is such a character, the faces she pulls to show her mood, and the antics she gets up to. Last week she stole a chew from the pet shop, a vanilla sponge cake from the market and a packet of treats in another shop but when you look at her cute face it is hard to stay mad. She makes me laugh and her coat is so snuggly to cuddle. When I’m not being annoyed by the amount of dog hair in our house, I find she is very calming to groom. Looking after her gives me a sense of purpose too. A definite winner for boosting my mood.

Kita with her big smiley face.

So, these are my top ten things on how I keep a low mood at bay. They may not suit everyone but you may be able to adapt them to suit your needs. You may even do some of these things yourself. Let me know in the comments how you keep a cheery spirit through the darker weeks. I’d love to hear some suggestions.

Lunchtime Laugh

This morning I woke up in my usual haze. In my restlessness, I started to scroll social media and came across a fitness ad. It was a guy doing planks. ”Ooh I can do planks!” I thought to myself, forgetting for a moment that I haven’t actually done one for years. My brain seemed to revert back to my fit days when my size 10 robust figure had the strength of 10 bears (well ok, it did in my head) but now my body is more rotund than robust, I’m sure one of my thighs is a size 10 though. I felt psychologically energetic so I sprung out of bed and hit the deck in full plank position counting “1…2…3…4…” and… smash! I crashed to the floor with a bang, ouch. My weary body couldn’t hold me up. Next came the surge of lactic acid through my arms and legs and I clambered back to bed.

Well, I got another hours sleep at least.