Monday, 27 March 2017

What Makes Me, Me - Charlotte

You can try and change who you are millions of times, but you're always going to be you.

During my teenage years I was able to express myself the way I wanted to. Lucky, really. Towards the end, though, I didn't want to be that person anymore.

Quite a few years ago, I took my entire comic book collection and shoved it in the bin. Goodbye Batman, won't be needing you again. Changing who I was seemed to be the only way I could escape the person I didn't want to be associated with. Myself. Running away was obviously the best tatic.

Step one: Dye your hair.

Step two: Get new clothes that aren't a pacman hoody and bright coloured jeans.

Step three: Do I need a new personality?

I started to grow up and become an entirely different person. However, lurking underneath was always the 'old' Charlotte. She always shone through. No matter how hard I tried to hide her, she was always, always going to be there.

Maybe I wanted her there really. Maybe I just needed to accept who I was. My past is part of me and I shouldn't hide away from it. I should say "I've survived this far and I can go a hell of a lot further". Charlotte Postings is a woman who has become independent and strong. I like reading comics, being at home having bunny cuddles, binge watching my Netflix favourites(Peep Show I'm looking at you), Harry Potter movie marathons and hugs. I'm a complicated mixture of mental health issues and too many cups of tea.

Defining who I am is one of the hardest things. I'm not really sure who I am or who I'm going to become, but I'll always honour the person I've been and currently am. Sometimes it's hard to be proud of the person I've become. Like, really hard. Then I sit back and look at all the things i've faced and all the things I've achieved. I've stopped comparing my beginning to other peoples middles and started living MY life. I am a person who needs to realise her self worth because I know i'm capable of a lot more than I think I am.

What makes me, me, is my past. Instead of trying to leave it behind, I let it be there as a reminder that I can overcome difficulties and grow into a person I have come to love. Yes, okay, so some days I wish I was more successful and doing better at this life game, but I'm trying my hardest and that's what counts. Everything in my past is what made me the person I am today. All the funny memories and heartache and interests and friends. I wouldn't be the person I am now if I hadn't of gone through what I've been through. Good and bad. If I didn't have my past, what stories would I have to tell?



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Sunday, 26 March 2017

Mother's Day Without Mum

Today is the seventh mother’s day I’ll be spending without my mum. For me, it’s arguably the worst day of the year. Days like the anniversary and her birthday are difficult but they’re private. Nobody outside of my family takes notice or even knows. I can usually be a bit sad, grieve in private, and get on with my day.

Mother’s Day on the other hand is a massive kick in the gut. And it’s not like it’s just one day either. As soon as Valentine’s Day ends, shops change overnight to their mother’s day stock. Every year I am caught off guard, and there have been several years I’ve come home crying because it’s everywhere. A constant reminder of what I don’t have. ‘Treat your mum this mother’s day!’ about 10 different shops have in their window within 100 metres. Except I can’t.

Some years I struggle fairly overtly. I’ll cry a lot, I’ll actively avoid any and all conversations about the topic. I’ll pretend it doesn’t happen and stay off social media a lot around the day, because seeing everyone’s Instagram and Facebook posts is just too damn hard. This year hasn’t been so bad – I think it’s partly because I no longer have to go through a shopping centre every day and so I just haven’t had the opportunity to be bombarded as much. Living in halls at University, I don’t have a TV and so I don’t have to watch advert after advert going on about it. But it’s affected me nonetheless.

I was doing fairly well with my anxiety, it had been months since I’d had a major panic attack. And then about three weeks ago I had a terrifying panic attack, and since I’ve been far more anxious than I normally am. Last week I was sick, which was partially due to the stress of imminent deadlines and living in a building with 60 other people, but I also think it was partially due to being stressed about Mother’s Day.

I know I’m very lucky to still have many maternal figures in my life. My stepmum is great most of the time – she’s friendly and looks out for me without trying to be my mum. And I still have both of my grandmothers, although my relationship with my maternal grandmother has always been slightly stilted.

I’m not sure how this Mother’s Day will be for me. I was luckily able to visit Mum’s grave on Friday and lay some flowers there with my brother and dad which made me feel a lot better, getting to spend a little time with her in my own way. The main thing I’ve learned to try and do is just let myself feel my emotions and not bury them – that’s not helpful at all. And maybe staying off Facebook and Instagram for the sake of my mental health.

Mother’s Day is always tricky, but I’m hoping that it will be okay. And I hope that whether your mum is still with you or not that you have a lovely day wherever you are.

Friday, 24 March 2017

It Finally Happened... I Got A Diagnosis!

If you've been following Safe Space for a while - or know me at all - then you will probably know that I have been really struggling with my physical health. I've written a few posts about my journey on this blog which you can find here, here, here, and here.

It has been two and a half, maybe three years (I've lost count to be honest) of pain, extreme fatigue and utter frustration. I went from one doctor to the next trying to explain to them what was going on with me and how I knew something was wrong and I kept being dismissed, told to lose some weight, sleep more, eat better, do physio, etc. They tried to treat me with respect but mostly I think they thought I was just wasting their time. I had anxiety and OCD and depression and it was all just causing my body to hurt. So they sent me away time and time again. Sometimes with a referral, sometimes not. But at the root of it, I knew that they didn't think there was anything wrong with me.

Maybe I am judging them too harshly. After all, they only get to see me for ten minutes and when I'm around doctors I clam up, especially when they started blaming it on my mental health or weight. I would just nod and let them tell me that I need to exercise more despite the pain I was feeling which made it hard to get out of bed, let alone exercising!

About a year and a half ago I read somewhere how crucial Vitamin D and B12 were and how they could be a cause for fatigue. After having every other blood tests under the sun and all the results coming back completely average, I was told that "everyone in the UK is vitamin D deficient anyway so there was no point in testing for it." I was told that if I was still concerned in six months, to ask for a test then.

I did. I was told that I was probably just overweight and overworked and thus that was why I was feeling lethargic for that reason. I told them about my painful hands - because how could they be hurting if it was just because I was overweight - and that did seem to stir something in my doctor but instead of the blood test I wanted, she booked me in for an x-ray on my hands to check for arthritis.

But guys... I finally managed to get a doctor to agree to a blood test to check my vitamin D and Vitamin B12 levels.

And guess what?

I am severely vitamin D deficient.

The average person should have a level reading somewhere between 75 to 200. A reading of 25 is considered extremely deficient.

My reading came to 17.

17.

Do you want to know what I've found out about vitamin D deficiency?

  • It causes unexplained fatigue
  • It can make it difficult to think clearly
  • It causes bone pain
  • It causes joint pain
  • It causes muscle pain and weakness
  • It can cause weight gain
  • It can make it harder to lose weight
  • It can affect serotonin levels increasing risk of depression
  • It can cause gut issues, especially concerning lactose...
Do you want to know something else?

I have all of these symptons. Every. Single. One.

I knew something was wrong. I knew it wasn't just because I was overweight because I have always been overweight and so why would my body suddenly be complaining about it all now? 

And because I knew it, I did not give up. I kept going back. From one doctor to the next, from one test to the next. I was determined to get the bottom of it and determined to prove the doctors wrong - it wasn't just because I was an overweight lazy person or because I ate like crap or because I was mentally ill. It wasn't all in my head. There was something wrong with me.

I have been told it will take a while for the supplements I now have to take to return my levels to normal but I have a hope inside of me that I haven't had for a long time. I believe that I can get my activity levels back up, my energy back up and be the person I used to be, the person I long to be again. It may take time, but I'm ready. I've waited three years, what's another few months?

So to end this post, I just want to say that if you have something ailing you, if you are certain that something in your body isn't right, please listen to your body and keep going to your doctor until they take you seriously and you get the diagnosis you need.


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

“Adding scars to my body in order for a higher quality of life.”




I always wondered what sort of person wanted to have surgery.

I always wondered how you could get to that point and want someone to cut you open.

I always wondered, until it happened to me.



My Timehop is a good reminder of what happened a year ago, or two or three years ago. It serves to remind me just how things have improved.

It allows me to reflect and really contemplate what has happened, how much I put up with, how long I was unwell for and just what exactly was my reality for so long.

After I realise that, adding scars to my body are nothing compared to how well I feel now.

I didn’t expect surgery to fix me, not at all. I expected some sort of medication regime to kick in once I’d recovered from my first surgery. I expected a lot and none of it happened. And that is just how it happens for some people. I didn’t moan too much – I wasn’t sure of what should happen, let alone how I would feel about it all – and I took it, I hope, in my stride. I’m sure those closest to me would beg to differ but we don’t talk about last summer a lot; as if it didn’t happen. I only got frustrated and angry when things just kept going wrong. And it was a constant battle to explain how my symptoms and side effects kept spiralling and no one at the hospital had any clue as what to do with me, on a small scale, when ‘things’ were just two or three things. By the time it got to being utter shite and my problems were six or seven deep, I had to call it quits. I had to be seen and refuse discharge until I was happy. That was my plan on the morning on August 12th 2016.


Don’t get me wrong, I am stronger because of my scars, even though they are signs of a weakness in my skin and muscles. They are scars from a long and hard battle with Crohn’s Disease.

My battle is not over. It won’t ever be over.

But I fight when I need to fight. I am stronger and wiser and more sure of what I can take, these days.

And have my scars meant I’ve got a higher quality of life?

HECK YES.

Do I regret my past?

No. It’s shaped my present and future. My scars have this ability to remind me to not be ashamed of giving as good as you can give, at the time.

My stomach is not perfect, it never has been. I’d like it to be flatter but I have time to work on that. I admire it – the slight crookedness of the midline scar; the thickening at the top, the dip from my wound infection, the faded laparoscopic incisions. It is all the map of me.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

What Makes Me, Me- Georgia

Defining myself is one the hardest things I've ever done; I find it incredibly hard to find the words to even describe who I am. What makes a person a person? Is it their hobbies, or what's happened to them in their life? For me, I suppose, it's a mix of both. 

I'm not a huge fan of talking about myself, I care very dearly about what other people think about me; I shut myself away when somebody says anything negative about my looks, or what I'm doing with my life. I've never really been great at talking about my feelings, I tend to suppress them - I think it's more out of fear that people are going to judge me (I understand that it's a petty fear, but I'm just like that). 

I'm a person who would blend into a crowd of people; I'm not exactly stand-out-in-the-crowd material. I'm just an ordinary person who's trying to find their place in the world. I know what I want in my life, but I know getting onto that path won't be the easiest thing for me.  

I'm not the luckiest person in the world: I suffer from gluten intolerance (like coeliac disease, only internal damage doesn't happen to me), and I've been a victim of bullying for a number of years. I lack confidence in many areas, and I tend to second guess what I do frequently. I'm that person who will appear shy at first, but the longer you get to know me the more I open up. Whilst I am a shy person, I do love meeting new people, I adore hearing their stories about their favourite experiences and the people they've met.  

I have very few hobbies, I'm a book reviewer and photographer, I play the ukulele and piano, and I like to paint. I'm not the best artist, but I do like the feeling of creating something with my paints and pencils. I also love binge-watching shows on Netflix, especially when I have popcorn, tea, and a good pair of PJs and fluffy socks on.  

I view myself as an optimistic person, I don't necessarily like looking on the negative sides of things. I'm hopeful for good things in my life, negativity shouldn't influence my life – or anyone else for that matter.  
Whilst I may not be one-hundred percent happy with who I am yet, I remind myself that I am still young and that I have a whole life ahead of me. 

So, in summary: 
Hello, I'm Georgia, nice to meet you.

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Friday, 10 March 2017

The Little Things

There has been a lot going on in my life lately. So much, in fact, that last Friday at work I more or less had a breakdown in the staff room. It was ugly and horrific and awkward. But it also made me realise that I was carrying around a lot of things that I need to deal with – and I promise to you now that I am dealing with those things. One problem at a time and all that good stuff.

But today I don’t want to write a sad post. Instead I want to bring up one of the things that due to everything else going on, slipped silently under the radar until I shone a light on it. It is a good thing and something that has me feeling proud of myself, happy and hopeful for the future.

And thus, as the title of the post suggests, I am going to talk about some little things. In this case, I am talking about little things that I have somehow overcome in the last few months without even realising. A while back, Jess wrote this post about celebrating small achievements and today I am doing just that.

If you’ve been following me from the start of this blog, you’ll know that one of the biggest issues I had with my mental health was food. You can read that post here. So here is a list of the things I have done in the past few months;
  • Eaten finger food without washing my hands or using hand sanitizer beforehand
  • Eaten food from a buffet
  • Eaten food at a buffet after other people
  • Eaten food that has been touched by other people (i.e. mum hands me a biscuit)
  • Experimented with new dishes in restaurants
  • Tried new places to eat
  • Tried new foods
  • Cooked (and eaten) food in the microwave
  • Cooked food in the grill
  • Cooked a cottage pie dish with my mum!!
All of the above seems pretty normal things to do, right? But for me it is surpassing a milestone. All of those things have happened and been survived without an anxiety or panic attack. They were tasks that I avoided due to anxiety and OCD and I cannot explain to you how over the moon I feel at having achieved these things.

There have been other achievements over the past few months, such as allowing animals to lick me without having a panic attack, but the food things have really made me very happy.

I know that I’m not cured and I know that things may go downhill again, but for right now I feel proud and strong.

I still have routines, I still have anxious and obsessive thoughts but I now have the skills to battle them headfirst. I will have bad days but I am positive that I can come out the other side because I already have. And thus, I say the same to you. It might be tough now, but I promise that you can beat this and see it through to the other side.


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Acceptance

 

Lately, people have been asking me how I’ve become so okay with how my life currently is. I think they mean to ask ‘how have you been able to accept your stoma so well?’ because it’s only been a little over six months since my operation. 

I think it’s down to three things, really:

1.       I have lived with a chronic illness for five years. I’ve had all that time to build up my own way to accept whatever circumstances have been thrown my way; both with my health and a result of my health. So, I learnt a while back to ‘roll with the punches’ and to ‘see the positive side’ – because there is always one, you just have to be willing to see and find it – through having had counselling sessions. From these, I found out a lot about myself but also discovered new methods to help me cope.

2.       At my first surgical consult in January 2016, my surgeon explained that my Right Hemicolectomy could result in a temporary stoma – about a 5% chance. I decided I had to get my head around that, so feeling okay about maybe having one and preparing myself for one, was helpful when I finally did get my ostomy; I just didn’t realise it would be so soon.

3.       I have a curious mind. I am fascinated by how the body works – more so now that I have an illness – so having my insides come outside of me, I think, is quite cool. And I just see it as another quirk of mine – I have a bag of poo on my belly!

In addition to that, my ability to see the funny side; being able to laugh and joke about it, just makes it more normal to me and everyone I interact with. I wouldn’t be without my support system of family, friends and medical professionals who have guided me through recovering from major surgery and living with an ostomy.




So, now that my acceptance is here to stay, what do I intend to do with it?

Well, I hope that by me being ‘okay’ with my ostomy, will make it okay for others to think it’s okay too. The raising of awareness; of letting people know that this is not a bad thing that has happened to me, it is something I have had a choice in -  something I am proud of having - is something I am happy to partake it. And so far, it’s led to some very cool and exciting opportunities and I have been able to connect with even become friends with some great people.



Part of raising ostomy awareness is to help non-ostomates is to see an ostomy as ‘normal’ and acceptable. It is not something for an ostomate to be ashamed of. And it certainly isn’t something to used as an insult or as a derogatory term. Ostomies come in lots of forms and for many reasons, to many different types of people. There should not be a judgement here.



Let’s break down the walls and start small.

If you are curious about an ostomy – my ostomy, let say – then ask. I am happy to answer questions and queries.



You can follow my adventures with a chronic illness – and my new life with an ostomy – at www.youngcrohns.co.uk


Saturday, 4 March 2017

Guest Post: Emotional Baggage by Eve Ainsworth


Ah, Damage.

How could a book be so difficult to write?

To be honest most ideas are pretty hard to get out on paper, but this one was particularly difficult - and I guess it was because it had so much of me in it. I know that sounds lame, and I’m sorry if it does, but that’s the truth.

Ok, I’ve written books before which were about subjects personal to me, so that alone wasn’t new. 7 Days was based loosely on experience and revisited some emotional baggage that I thought I had neatly packed away long ago (guess I was wrong there then!). It can be tough to touch on these things again, but I think it helps to make the writing feel more real. You can totally understand where the character is and how they might be feeling – you can tap into them, relive experiences with them, even if that’s something you don’t really want to do again.

In Damage I had to deal with emotions that I hadn’t had time to pack away – this grim stuff, or more specifically, grief, was still cluttering up my mind. I guess grief never really goes away. I don’t think so anyway. I see it sitting under the skin like a persistent bruise, aching whenever you press on it. So of course writing about grief meant I was constantly pressing on that wound. Aching, hurting, remembering. Although I’d never experienced self-harm, a major theme of my book, I could relate to the build-up of pressure that a person could feel. The way that you can feel as if you would burst due the internal pain. The way you seek to relieve the pain the best way you can.

Even harder for me was writing about anxiety, something one of my characters suffers from. Anxiety has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I used to think that I was different from everyone else. Why else would I panic at the smallest thing, never sleep due to my constant fears and have a constant knot in my stomach? Why was my world filled with dark thoughts and worries? Why could I never be happy?

I’ve found that acceptance has been a great step forward for me. I know who I am now and all the parts that form me. I’m less ashamed of my anxious behaviours and try to be more up front about it. I try to see it not as a weakness but just as part of my character. I can’t hide away from me, I am who I am.

If depression is a black dog, anxiety is a grey wolf clawing at my insides, constantly chewing up my guts and howling at night, keeping me awake and haunting my dreams. It’s hard not to feed the wolf, but sometimes the wolf feeds me.

Damage is a small part of this.  I can use my experiences to write, to share to draw from my own knowledge. Although it can be a little difficult at times, I do think it’s good to get these things out there. Only by reading, by writing, by talking and sharing can we build our empathy and understanding – and then we can move forward, appreciating that every person is a wonderful unique emotional cocktail.

Eve Ainsworth is the author of Seven Days, Crush and Damage. All her books can be found on Goodreads. All her books are also available to purchase from all major book retailers.
For more from Eve follow her
  

Friday, 3 March 2017

Please Don't Laugh

So, ever since being officially diagnosed with OCD and talking about everything here on Safe Space, I have been a lot more open about talking about my mental health with those people that I interact with daily. I want them to be aware of my limitations and that some of the actions I do so that they don’t unintentionally mock me or make the panic I’m trying to keep at bay spring to the surface.

And for the most part, everyone has been incredible supportive. Some asking for further clarification and others going out of their way to help me, such as by allowing me to be the first person to take food from a buffet. And I cannot thank these people enough. Because of their support, I know that I am testing my boundaries and getting better and stronger every day.

But then there are some people who do the worse thing possible. They laugh. I have had one person find it hilarious that my brain goes from something as simple as eating to thinking I am going to die. They were apologetic and explained that they’re not laughing at me as such but more because it is such a silly thought. And I agree, it is pretty silly but that laughter? It undermines the true struggle I go through daily when it comes to eating food.

Because laughing makes me feel weak and stupid. It makes me feel silly. And then I feel myself wanting to put a bubble around me. Wanting to go and hide in my room and not see anyone or anything or do anything either. It makes me want to let my Mental Illnesses win so that people understand how unfunny it really is.

Needless to say this is so damaging.

I’ve also been around when someone else laughed at someone else’s OCD issues and it really grated on my nerves then. It was a small chuckle but I could see that my friend’s guard went straight up and I knew that she was struggling just as much as I was.

So all I really want to say in this post is please be careful with your emotions when someone is sharing something as scary and deep with you as their mental health issues. They are not funny. They are serious and life altering. Laugh in your own space about it, sure, but please don’t laugh in our faces.