The Anxiety Rollercoaster : Going beyond my Comfort Zone. by Eleanor

morganharper1

(image: Pinterest)

I don’t really know where to start with this blog except I have needed to write this one  for several weeks. As many of you know, I struggle with an anxiety disorder (alongside/ part of the bipolar) which when triggered can make life quite difficult. This includes things that anyone would find anxiety provoking, such as job interviews.

I have had to dig deep, leave the house and use every ounce of strength to attend face to face job interviews in the past few weeks. This is not an exaggeration. My body floods with adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) and I feel overwhelmed. All my energy becomes consumed around preparing for the interview, attending the interview or NOT attending the interview because I wake up in a panic not wanting to go out- and having to try and reschedule it. Which just adds more stress as I fear I will lose the chance to interview.

This is really hard for me. There is still such a stigma to mental health issues that disclosing it early on without someone knowing you fully, means you are still less likely to be hired. Having to reschedule an interview also floods me with fear that the employers will think I am just flaky, even if I say I am unwell.

I am very proud of my achievements in the past month. Last week, I went to an interview and did well- travelled alone, was fine throughout. I even got a second interview. However, I woke this morning at 7am in anxiety and am seeing if I can reschedule it.

Essentially, this is one big test of exposure therapy. Reaching outside my comfort zone and going out into the world to use my skills. Its scary and exhausting. But it can also be validating and exhilarating too.

Today I feel a bit of an exhausted, worried mess. However, I refuse to let my panic disorder beat me. Next week, I have some positive things happening too re work.

For anyone else going through this- you aren’t alone. I take medication on time, I have had years of therapy and I still have panic attacks at times and struggle with the debilitating anxiety. I am searching for a new form of therapy (maybe EMDR- rapid eye movement) as I am concerned that my disorder mimics some PTSD symptoms, although that will need to be determined by a psychiatrist . I went through a lot in 2014 when in hospital and just before in a manic state and when I came home after and got back to work.  I wonder if this is what is behind the panic.

This is an honest assessment of whats going on. Despite the anxiety attacks, I have been able to see some friends. I am also still writing my book – deadline fast approaching.

Thank you to all my online twitter ‘cheerleader’ friends who sent me so many messages of love and support, of cute animals and inspiring quotes. You helped give me the strength to go to my interview and be ok. And to my friends and family in ‘real life’ too.  

If you are also struggling, keep fighting. I am always here for you to talk too.

Love,

Eleanor x

 

Why Writing therapy helps : Guest Post by Amy Hutson, Counsellor

writing therapy
(image: Amy Hutson)

I first started using writing therapy without really knowing what it was when I was having a tough time at school. There was something valuable about getting my thoughts down on to a page, instead of spinning around my head that helped to make sense of everything.

Since training as a counsellor many years later, I came across writing therapy and took some training in how to use it with clients. I’ve found it can be very powerful, alongside therapy or even on its own.

But what is writing therapy?

Writing therapy or expressive writing is basically writing as fast as you can without worrying about grammar or whether it makes sense. It might sound a bit odd, but it taps into your unconscious thoughts and can be cathartic writing things down, as well as helping to come up with answers to something you’ve been struggling with.

In the 1980s James W. Pennebaker was the first person to research how writing therapy helps and he set the challenge of asking people to write about their most traumatic experiences over four consecutive days. The results of the study were staggering, people felt much better both mentally and physically. So much so that people made less visits to the doctor at about half their usual rate, after the experiment.

So how can you use writing therapy?

There are lots of different techniques I use with clients, depending on what issue it is we’re discussing or what I think might be helpful to them. But here are a few things you could try at home and if it ever feels a bit too painful what you’re writing, you can stop at any time or write about something that feels safer.

Journalling

If you’ve never tried writing in a stream-of-conscious style of writing in a journal, I’d recommend starting here. Some people like to buy a lovely notebook and find a quiet space to write, sometimes at the beginning or at the end of the day. Then the idea is to write about whatever comes to mind. Even if you start by just writing ‘blah blah blah’, you will probably find something insightful will come up if you just keep writing and don’t stop to think. If writing every day feels too much, you could try writing whenever you feel you need to – it could be you’ve had a really rough day and want somewhere to vent or maybe something incredible happened and you want to record and remember it.

The unsent letter

The unsent letter can be powerful when you want to say something to someone but feel you can’t. It might be you’re angry or upset with someone and you’re holding on to those strong emotions, because you feel unable to share them. So, you simply write everything you want to say to this person in a letter without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings, because it’s not going to be sent. Writing it alone can really help, but it can also be used as a way of getting your thoughts together before confronting someone in a less emotional state.

If you want to take this one step further, you could write a letter back to yourself from the other person. The results can be surprising, as they can offer another perspective to the situation you might not have thought of.

Quick lists

Writing lists quickly and without editing them can be helpful and used in lots of different ways. Say you’re feeling anxious, you could start a list like:

I’m really anxious about:

  • My new job
  • Lack of sleep
  • Bad diet

Rather than just focusing on the anxiety, writing a list can sometimes help uncover what might be causing it, which you could then explore further in a journal, with a friend or a counsellor.

Another example of a quick list which can help if you’re feeling low is:

Three good things that happened today:

  • I got through the day at work despite little sleep
  • I met a friend for coffee
  • I went to the gym

Writing therapy really helps my clients and it could help you too!

 

Amy Hutson is a counsellor and writing therapist, who offers therapy in Hove and worldwide on Skype. For more details visit www.amyhutsoncounselling.co.uk

 

Why I am fundraising for women in Ghana at Gigdev for my 30th Birthday.

gigdevghana
(image: E Segall)
In 2010, I set off for Tamale, Northern Ghana in West Africa, with the Jewish development charity Tzedek. There were 8 of us volunteers including three of my best friends from school- Anna, Katie and Hannah- and we were all placed at different NGOs and organisations to learn about sustainable development- and make a small impact on the communities we volunteered with.

My fellow volunteers were placed at Morning Star primary School, NGOs working in rural communities- some went into villages or wrote funding applications and I and my fellow volunteer Rachel were sent to Girls Growth and Development NGO known as GIGDEV.

Girls Growth and Development was set up by the mother of Ms Selina Iddi Abdulai, in order to help combat the poverty and disadvantages that are often found in the Northern region of Ghana- and to focus on women aged 15-25 who are at risk of abuse and exploitation. Many women leave the Northern region to go to the more prosperous Southern capital of Accra in search of work- known as ‘Kayaye girls’.

However, they often become homeless, do not find work to financially support them and are at risk of exploitation by others. A lot of the women at Gigdev fall pregnant in their teens and are ill treated by men (and family members).

‘ GIGDEV offers an integrated approach towards achieving self reliance for adolescent girls at risk for exploitation by offering lessons financial literacy, leadership, and health into their vocational training program. In addition to their vocational training program, GIGDEV also runs an early childhood education program as well as an advocacy and mobile outreach program on reproductive health, good governance, and human rights.’

Gigdev gives these women hope by teaching them a trade such as dressmaking, giving them education, shelter, food and child care.

I arrived in Tamale in July 2010, after a six hour journey across potholed roads feeling very sick, but amazed by the beauty of Ghana- lush green palm trees, cities, street sellers and the women selling food and cosmetics on their heads. A totally different culture- yet so incredibly beautiful.

We were staying in a village outside Tamale called Fuo, which has mud huts and goats roaming free. I and Rachel started volunteering at Gigdev, teaching basic literacy and grasp of English and Maths to groups of women. We used Ghanaian textbooks but also used our own knowledge to help. We also taught the women basic ICT skills so they could prosper in the future and we played with their children in the nursery, while they were studying dressmaking and hairdressing.

As I began to teach the women spellings, verbs, numbers, multiplication, division, English phrases and songs- we all began to bond. Some women would sit in my classes with their babies, others would compete to see who could get their sums right the quickest and there was a lot of laughter and jokes between us all.

ghanalaugh
(image: E Segall)

All the women were so different and I got close to them – and didn’t want to leave them by the end of my 7 weeks of volunteering. I remember two particular girls- one called Zubaida and another very cheeky one whose name escapes me (in photo above) and her friend Mama.

Zubaida loved to learn and was exceptionally bright, top of all my classes and had a real thirst for knowledge. She was especially good at Maths. A lot of the women found Maths easier to contend with than English, even though English is one of Ghanas official languages, a lot of them spoke in the local dialect Dagbani or in Twi.

I had been teaching Zubaida for weeks and we formed such a bond. I never fully knew her full story- but she was bright and kind and eager to learn. When I had to leave, we were both so sad.

I was so honoured to know this woman and all the other incredible bright lights of women I met. I had several very funny and cheeky women in my class (as you can see by the photos) who used to crack me up with their jokes and fun nature. The woman in the photo above would joke around with me and her friends- I have so many pictures of them all laughing. They loved taking photos on my camera too.

I think this is what touched me so much about these so called ‘Kayaye girls’ who had been at risk but who Gigdev was looking after. That they had hope. They had passion. They had joy. And they embraced me as a privileged white woman- I feel like they didn’t see colour and neither did I.

zubaida

(image: E Segall)

I remember them plaiting each others hair and putting new weaves in.  I remember them singing and dancing and laughing. One day at the end of the class I taught them the penguin dance – ‘Have you ever seen a penguin come to tea?’, which they loved and we all stood in a massive circle and did the actions. They found it brilliant because it  was new to them and they could just spend time laughing with their friends.

They supported each other and loved each other. I saw their strength. And their desire to have better lives.

Because of them and their positivity and the amazing staff at Gigdev- I became a better and more informed person.

They taught me far more than I could ever teach them.

And this is why for my 30th birthday, as I enter a new decade- I want to help new women to have the same opportunities, care and help that Selina and the Gigdev team provide.

Please give whatever you can towards building a shop which will sustain the GIGDEV project. The women will sew clothes to sell and sell water bottles too- as an Income Generator for the NGO.

You can donate here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/fundraising-gigdev-ghana-shop-for-girls-education

Here is a snap shot of of Ghana experience from my diary back in 2010:

‘I am working at Gigdev as a literacy, numeracy and IT teacher for women aged between 15 and 25. I also worked in the nursery for the womens children ‘Kiddicare’ for three weeks until it closed for the summer, assisting the teachers and looking after the children. 

I am finding teaching the women at Gigdev so rewarding, and I hope they are benefiting even on a small level. To be able to teach and build relationships with women around my age (i am 22!) and of a different culture, is very special and something I will treasure for the rest of my life. It is so interesting to see their reaction to what I teach them, whether that be a song as it was today, or reading, english verbs, to fractions…. which confused them at first but they soon picked up. I wish however I had more time to teach them and not only one hour a day!

I learnt that the education I have recieved is a luxury…that I can use a computer to communicate, that I am literate and numerate and can read books (let alone buy books) . I learnt that despite not having much and gone through so much, the human spirit in the women I worked with was strong, and BRIGHT and incredible……..and I hope that they go on to live good lives

Coming home from Ghana has been a very odd (and nice!) experience. At first it was so hard to acclimatise back to a culture so alien to African life, particularly in a fairly rural village surrounded by mud huts and goats where people get up with the sunrise and go to bed when it gets dark (6pm there). I found myself being confronted with contrasting lifestyles. It is hard to explain but I found a simplicity of life in Africa- without gadgets or material influence… people spend more time face to face talking together and there is a huge emphasis on community. ‘

 

ellieghana

 

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/fundraising-gigdev-ghana-shop-for-girls-education