Saturday, 31 May 2014

Pink Mist.

It was my birthday recently, and in a celebratory mooch around the garden centre, I bought myself a plant. (Now, there's a sentence I wouldn't have written when I was 20!)

Anyway, this plant. It's called Pink Mist, and its a neat, small plant, with a number of determinedly upright long stems, on which sit round pink flowers, busily producing food for bees. I was impressed by how straight and tall the stems were, and how much energy the plant must be putting in to keep them that way. In contrast, the other plants in my garden seemed to be practically lolling, sprawling about in an almost unseemly relaxed fashion.

And then the rain started.

It poured, and poured. And then it poured a bit more. My poor Pink Mist became battered and bent from the onslaught, looking sad and bedraggled. The bees stayed away, and there was no more busy food production. The lolling, sprawling plants were, of course you've guessed it, indifferent to the rain, and continued their sprawling undaunted.

At about the same time as the rain began, we had a family bereavement, expected but sad. And, as always, the immediate sadness is accompanied in the weeks that follow with a torrent of other emotions, linked to family dynamics, past grief and the loss of what might have been. It was a natural and normal grief reaction, and I was exhaused. My moodscope score plummeted.

Now, my default reaction in situations like these is similar to that of the Pink Mist - put every last drop of energy into staying upright, determinedly carrying on with life as normal despite the storm. And I end up battered, squashed and unproductive. But this time I went for the lolling and sprawling option instead. I tried to be mindful of how I was feeling, to take notice of my sense of feeling bruised. This in turn meant I needed to give myself time and space to rest and heal, clearing my diary and pottering in the greenhouse instead. Finally, I found a friend who I knew would actively listen and encourage me to off-load.

And it worked. I'm regaining energy and enthusiasm, and my moodscope scores are picking up. So, my future motto - less striving for perfection, more mindful lolling and sprawling...

Vanessa
A Moodscope member.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Anyone else fed up?

"I'm fed up" I said with teary eyes to my psychologist.

"Well, yes, you do look quite fed up" came the reply.

Then he asked me if it was okay to feel so fed up, given all my symptoms and I agreed it was.

Sometimes you just need to say things are getting you down, tell somebody and have them say back to you that it isn't wrong, that it's understandable.

Do you need to tell somebody you feel fed up, just to get a mental high five from somebody?

I still feel fed up, but sharing it has helped and I feel 1% less fed up, and for now, a 1% reduction is a mountain climbed.

What about reaching out to a moodscope buddy or a friend? Maybe even your GP or a medical professional? Why not give it a try, it may just help.

Have a lovely day.

Jules
A Moodscope member.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Heartfelt Blog.

"The most powerful agent of growth and transformation is something much more basic than any technique: it is a change of heart."  John Welwood.

Last week I took a risk to write in a deeper way about forgiveness, using my own background to ensure that the authenticity was 'felt'. (http://moodscope.blogspot.fr/2014/05/to-be-strong-is-to-forgive.html)

What resulted was for me a rich response where people responded by offering their own feelings and challenges.

There is no doubt we all struggle in some ways to deal with emotional challenges, and for me at the moment with the depressive door opening again, what do I write and say?

I often start with a quote and the one above 'feels' right following last week, when I talked about the challenge of forgiveness of others and some of the comments quite rightly pointed out that the start of that can often be forgiving ourselves.

There were also some comments about the difficulty in forgiving someone who has been, in our eyes, bad to us. If you remember, when depressed, I called my father to tell him I loved him and thus to forgive him all his 'wrongs' from his violent and alcoholic past. What changed was, in feeling my own frailty - rather than more of my ego where he was wrong and I was right- I had a change of heart.

I will often say that the only person you can change is yourself. Now, that can mean that you move away from someone which may be the right thing to do, as much as a move towards someone or something. The key is that you cannot expect anyone else to change unless you do - even if you think or even legally know you are 'right'.

Solutions are created by a coming together and if you wish any situation to change and have the courage to act on that wish, you will 'move' first. The key is, as the quote states, a change of heart.

With a change of heart comes a different 'spirit' and even although you may be saying similar things, the spirit in which you say it alters, most likely to seek a solution, rather than proving yourself right and even someone else wrong. We all know that it is not what people say that we remember, but how they made us feel!

Feelings(EQ) are way more important than facts(IQ), so no point in 'proving' you are right, if you are seeking an alignment. The most important aspect of what you are saying is the 'intent' not the content.

How can you look into your heart to achieve a more harmonised outcome for some of the challenges you face? Or, how can you find the strength to leave/move away from and to forgive your own previous mistakes?

Les
A Moodscope member.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

How honest should we be when people ask "How are you?"?

So, let's be honest with ourselves first: how many of those people actually want or are expecting an honest answer? When someone is introduced to you, shakes hands and says "How do you do" it's not a question; the correct answer is "How do you do." (Yes – it's one of the many very silly things about British etiquette). Similarly, the glibly asked "how are you?" often requires the standard reply "Very well, thank you" regardless of our actual state of health.

So, who do we tell when we're not well at all?

There's a reason for the title of this post. Most of us over the age of forty will remember a time when the majority of gay people kept their sexuality a secret from the majority of their work colleagues and even from family and anyone who was not a close friend. There are those who wish things were still that way. Fortunately, the rest of the world has moved on.

We know from the replies to this blog that there are more than a few people out there who feel that way about their mental health. If they were to "come out" about being bipolar or having clinical depression they fear that their jobs would be unsafe, their chances of promotion compromised and their social standing undermined.

I'm not going to say they're wrong. We've still got a long, long way to go before mental health issues are accepted with the same insouciance as conditions like (say) asthma.
So, back to the question; who do we tell?

This "down" for me has been the most serious for eight years or so. What's been brilliant is having the Moodscope score to let my buddies (including my husband) know what's going on. Moodscope does my honesty there for me. Because I'm so physically compromised at the moment and really do look ill, anyone who is more than casually acquainted with me knows something is wrong. I do have to be truthful about not being well, but I don't always say "I have depression"; sometimes I'm "just very tired."

Maybe it's just luck, but when I have told, there has been vastly more acceptance and understanding than I was expecting.

But, while I'm happy to say I'm bipolar when things are fine and I am well, I'd much rather not tell when I'm down. I don't want most of my clients to know and I don't want most of my extended family to know. When you're down you're far more vulnerable and instinctively you seek to protect yourself and I'd rather not burden them with the knowledge.

So, in the end, the question is who do you trust with yourself? Who can you be vulnerable with?  I really hope that at least a few names come to mind for you.

Mary
A Moodscope Member.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A More Abundant Life; part 6 of 7.

Respiration

Of the seven signs of life (movement, nutrition, reproduction, excretion, growth, respiration, and sensitivity) 'respiration' or 'breathing' is understandably often the focal point. The language of respiration and breathing even enters many spiritual disciplines. For example, some languages use 'spirit' and 'breath' interchangeably. To 'inspire' is literally to breathe in. To 'expire' is to breathe out...

I don't know if you did what I did as a child, but I suspect most of us have tried this – to see how long we can hold our breath. Before long, you feel like you'll burst if you don't breathe out and then rapidly breathe in again. This reflects the drama going on at a cellular level: respiration (of which breathing is a vital part) is the transference of Oxygen from the outside world into the interior of the cells in our tissues. The mirror reaction, the transference of Carbon Dioxide out from the cells and tissues, is of equal importance. There are other technical aspects of respiration but my purpose today is to use the concept metaphorically to help us live a more abundant life.

(Gaseous) Exchange

At the heart of all this is a win-win exchange. We need the Oxygen, other organisms (mainly plants) need the Carbon Dioxide. This is the stuff of life – the flow of fair exchange. I believe with all my heart that this is an aspect we all need to explore: to find something valuable to give out to the World, and to have the grace to receive something in return. Like the child holding her or his breath, the exchange can never be sustained if it is only one way!

When we are feeling low, it can be very hard to ask for help – let alone to accept it. My message today is that this exchange – the giving and receiving of help, love, friendship, value – is the ebb and flow of life itself. It is the rhythm of life. Until we can learn to receive (to breathe in), we will be starved of vital Oxygen. You were not designed to struggle through life bravely (foolishly?) on your own. You need to receive... and you need to give.

Don't hold your breath! Breathe out today in the form of giving something to others. And here's the best part: what you breathe in is not what you breathe out. For me, this means giving without expecting anything in return from that specific person. Expect a return – but allow Nature to choose the channel through which the exchange will come. This adds elements of freedom and excitement and surprise to life. It also releases relationships from the curse of reciprocation, disappointment and guilt.

Love, also, is like breathing out... if you hold it in for too long, you'll burst! Breathe!

Lex
A Moodscope member.

Monday, 26 May 2014

A love letter.

I still recall the first time we met. Years of stress, and genetic inheritence had brought me to an all time low. The running commentary of self-criticism that had replaced all normal thought had summed it up for me the previous day. I washed the kitchen floor, a small ambition to see it gleaming clean, and it did gleam. Then, a sauce bottle knocked on the floor, up the walls. The voice spells it out "You can't even do that right, you really are useless"

Next day I see my GP. I ask for you by name, and she agrees we may hit it off. She also suggests further help, a clinical psychologist. I walk out with an appointment, and a prescription. You have changed your name now to Fluoxetine, but to me you will always be Prozac. Within days you have worked your magic. Some say it is all a placebo effect, but tell me this - how come the Raynauds that made my hands crippled every winter is almost cleared -something I had not even expected.

By the time I meet the therapist I feel a bit of a fraud, but go along. The first meeting is about my history, she tells me I am a remarkable woman, promises to provide me with a "psychological toolkit" to enable me to be happy, stop hating myself.

She smiles when I admit I already feel better than I can ever remember. Antidepressants can be useful in the short term she admits, to get someone out of a crisis, but they are a poor substitute for what she can help me achieve.

The second meeting - she draws some charts. Starts delving. My fear of abandonment - that will get sorted, no problem. The next couple of weeks before the next appointment are hard. It is like someone has offered to come and clear out my loft, but just left all the junk by the front door so I keep tripping over it. I say junk, but toxic waste would be more like it - we are talking biohazard.

I just battle on, waiting for my next appointment. Without you, it would have been grim indeed. Just two weeks until the third meeting. But there is none. I arrive to be told she has phoned in sick. Another two weeks, I am just leaving the house when a call comes, cancelled again. I hear nothing for a few months, then a letter, the venue is changing and a new appointment is on the way. I never hear again. That was 15 years ago. The humour and irony is not lost on me - a psychotherapist promises to cure your fear of abandonment, then disappears!

And all these years later, you are still with me, my little green and white darling. Periodically I have to go through the motions to satisfy the doctors. Yes - I have tried to break away (lies, all lies!) We are told that mental illness is just that, an illness. Do they tell diabetics or epileptics that they really should try to wean themselves off medication, that they should explore talking therapies? You have always been there for me, we don't need words, I know what you mean to me.

Valerie.
A Moodscope member.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Emoticons - Like, Love, Loathe?

They started out like this :o) and have evolved into sophisticated phone apps (such as Emoji), so your texts and emails can be adorned with wee icons of everything from high heeled shoes to a VHS cassette tape and everything in between. Not to mention faces representing every human emotion under the sun.

I personally like emoticons. They're fun. Although I don't just slap them about willy-nilly - oh no! Every emoticon is picked with care. For friends with antediluvian (shh, don't tell them I said that!) phones that don't allow this new army of zany aliens to infiltrate the world of black and white, I've even taken to writing in brackets the picture I would now insert. (smiley face).

My brother sent me a colouful text recently telling me all about his day almost entirely in emoticons. It really did make me chuckle.

Emoticons can prove useful in more important ways too. Say if a friend asks how I'm doing and I answer truthfully that it's been a bad week and the reasons why, if I've added a picture of a howling face or a face clenching teeth, I feel they'll know - perhaps even unwittingly - that If I've managed to pepper my texts with a few little funny faces, I'm down but I'm certainly not out. Also, if I've cracked a joke that follows with a laughing face, I feel it ensures they know it's just that - a joke -  and not me being acerbic.

And yet, I feel there are definite dilemmas with these emoticons too. If a friend texts expressing dire times, would it be too frivolous to reply with a motley crew of sad faces?  And what of the business world? Too unprofessional? If yes, why yes? The conservative me says, 'no' but the real me says 'Why can't I?'

Love them or loathe them, emoticons are here to stay and if dotting correspondence with a few amusing pictures and faces delivers a smile, as well as a message, then I say, use them. I've a feeling though that more than a few of you will think me heathen. ;o) ;-)   }o; ]-B

Suzy
A Moodscope member.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

You're always happy. How do you do it?

I've been struggling recently with 2 different sets of feelings that adversely affect my mood.

1) A sense of injustice and pain over some things that have been said and done to me.
2) Feelings of  guilt over things that I have said or done unwisely; choices that I have made and regretted.

Each time I think I've put them to bed they seem to come lurking back.

I've been reading a brilliant book recently "Light between Oceans" by M L Stedman, a story about a young man, Tom, returning home to Western Australia after WW1, burdened with memories of the terrible things he has seen and been forced to do.

In the book one of the characters, Hannah, recalls a conversation with her husband:

Hannah to her husband Frank: "But how? How can you just get over these things darling? You've had so much strife but you're always happy. How do you do it?"

Frank : "Because I choose to. I can leave myself to rot in the past, spend my time hating people for what happened, like my father did, or I can forgive and forget."

Hannah: "But it's not easy."

Frank. "Oh, but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once.  To resent, you have to do it all day every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things. I would have to make a list, a very very long list, and make sure I hated the people on it the right amount. That I did a proper job of hating, too: very Teutonic!   No," his voice became sober, "We always have a choice.  All of us."

That's it, isn't it? We may not choose the circumstance or how we feel immediately when it happens, but we can choose how we feed our responses. It may not be easy, but it is so much better for us.

As Tom said  "I've learned the hard way that to have any kind of a future you've got to give up hope of ever changing your past."

Fionna
A Moodscope member.

Friday, 23 May 2014

A More Abundant Life; part 5 of 7.

One of the most obvious signs of life is growth. Living things grow and mature and bear fruit. Today, I'd like to focus on the maturity aspect.

(As a quick reminder the seven signs are: movement, nutrition, reproduction, excretion, growth, respiration, and sensitivity.  ALL 7 have to be present and developed for someone to be enjoying a life to the full.)

Growth

I've had my fair share of getting to know a few gurus over the years. The closer I got to them, the more unattractive I found them. I believe this is largely because their 'success' had given them a distance from 'real' people in the 'real' world, they had got so used to sycophantic fawning toadies that they began to believe their own PR, and worst of all, they got their own way all the time. In short, they had stopped listening, learning and growing. Many appeared to be emotional toddlers – sulking or showing off when they didn't get their way!

As an antidote I offer Howard Gardner's original model of multiple-intelligence. He changed the way we look at intelligence to say that we should ask, "In what way am I intelligent?" rather than "Am I intelligent?" His seven aspects of intelligence (he's added more now, but I like the elegance of the original) are:

Intrapersonal Intelligence – the ability to 'go inside' and make meanings from your experiences; to know thyself. Maturity manifested by a deep serene inner peace.

Interpersonal Intelligence – also called Social Intelligence – the ability to empathise with others and 'read' them – to inspire and bring out the best in others. Maturity is shown through Servant Leadership behaviour such as engaged listening.

Physical Intelligence – the dexterity to use our musculature to achieve a goal. Maturity is seen in grace and elegant balanced movement with a purpose such as in careers like being a plumber, builder, tailor, surgeon, musician...

Linguistic Intelligence – skill in using language. Maturity is shown not just in using a large vocabulary but also in matching the vocabulary of one's audience.

Mathematical/Logical Intelligence – reasoning and analysis. Philosophy fits in here when we mature to the point that we can use reason to improve our mental state.

Visual/Spatial Intelligence – the power to relate concepts together visually – such as Mind Mapping, Flow-Charting, Design, Blueprinting, Drawing, Painting, Sketching – all with a purpose.

Musical Intelligence – the insight to use music on purpose – to harness the power of music to bring meaning and enrichment.

If we are to keep listening, learning and growing, Howard Gardner's model offers us seven areas in which to set growth goals for maturity. Like the colours of the rainbow, each aspect brings something fresh and different to our enjoyment of a life to the full. Would you care to share your specific goals in any of these areas? I believe a goal shared is a goal 'squared' – its effectiveness multiplied exponentially...

Lex
A Moodscope member.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

To Be Strong - Is To Forgive.

"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." Mahatma Gandhi.

In the early days with depression, when I really didn't know what was happening and the self harm thoughts would flood in, I would attempt to distract myself in 'tasks'. One of those tasks I clearly remember was to answer the question - 'If you only had six months to live, what three things would you do?'

The reason it sticks in my mind after what must be just over 20 years, is that one of the things that came straight into my head was to call my father and tell him I love him.

Now, this is after growing up in a broken home, where there was always shouting and arguments - leaving home with my mum to stay with my grandmother at 3am on one occasion, due to my father being a rather violent alcoholic.

My mum died when I was 15 and I had stayed most of my life with my Gran and my mum. My father was never really part of my life as mum attended anything I did at school or sports. The worst thing was when my mum died of cancer and my father, who was not welcome at my gran's, came for the first time to the door and was refused entry to see her. I struggled to cope.

Now, here I was 25 years on, having spent little time with my father, who also never hugged or cuddled me, suddenly thinking about calling him as one of only three things I would do if I only had 6 months to live!

Anyway, I did it and it was probably the most difficult phonecall I have ever made. He couldn't speak - told me that he had to sit down and that his whole scalp was tingling - he said he didn't know what to say. The fact was - he didn't have to say anything. What I had recognised over time, was that he did the best he could do with what he had. His childhood had not been pleasant at all - lots of beatings.

There is no doubt that if you hold grudges it certainly diminishes your life in both quality and in life itself. I believe the Gandhi quote above to be very true and recognise how long it took me to be 'strong' enough to recognise that no one really gets up each day to do wrong.

Who can you forgive today? Who can you call and overtly forgive today? Who can you talk to to release your own negative burden and also possibly their own internalised guilt?

Les
A Moodscope member.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Disconnect to Connect.

I find Moodscope an invaluable tool in tracking my ups and downs. It helps keep track and put things into perspective. Lately, for example, I've had a lot on my plate, travelling a lot, socialising and indulging in the less healthy pleasures of life slightly more than my fair share and have returned from my travels quite exhausted.

It would have been easy to just think about that and get down about it. Moodscope, my daily moment of reflection and mindfulness of self, allowed me to remember that despite feeling physically less than great, I'm richer by a whole lot of amazing experiences. I have spent a great and exciting time with friends and loved ones, and despite feeling quite beat on one level, I have lots to be grateful for and happy about.

In the days of travelling and people-meeting out there in the hilly landscape of Czech-Moravian border, I barely thought about being online and managed to stay offline most days and even when I did got on the net, it was just to briefly check for important e-mails and messages. A success for, I must shamefully admit, a typical twenty first century internet addict and a master procrastinator (feel free to laugh, most of us have been there, right?).

It was upon my return, and finding my mailbox flooded with, amongst other things, my Moodscope reminders and a mild chastising for being offline for a whole week, that I realised the dual nature of the problem, one of the many pairs of seemingly contradictory truths that one has to juggle in the right way if you are to become and stay happy.

Yes. Any kind of treatment and helping tool performs best when used regularly. But it is also true that some of our happiest, most lasting memories happen offline, off-grid, perhaps when our mobile phones have no signal, or, when we simply dare to turn them off. The 'dare' in the previous sentence is very deliberate. The expectation of being constantly available is one of the darker sides of being so well connected thanks to modern technologies. It can make it harder to relax, to let go, to properly rest. It can invade attempts to be mindful and fully present. Things so precious these days and things that make and keep us well, too.

And so, when you are online do your Moodscope test. But don't beat yourself up if you're NOT online at all. Create such moments. And relish in them. Bask in the sun and in the real, physical presence of others, face to face, sun-lit and candle-lit without the bluish glow of our many pocket-sized devices reflected in our eyes. Enjoy the good moments for what they are and when they are happening. If they are worth remembering, you can always remember and share them on Facebook later!

With bright wishes to you all,

Eurik
A Moodscope member.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

It's a Physical Thing.

We bloggers always appreciate the comments we get from you lovely readers (well, the nice ones that is: we get a little hurt when anyone says something negative) and this is a reply to a comment made a week or so ago.

"Why do you refer to your mental illness as physical?" This reader asked. "Please explain."

Obviously everyone's experience of mental health problems and depression is different and I can only write from my own background.

I'm bi-polar and have been for forty four years, but I didn't know this until about five years ago; in fact, for most of the episodes I didn't even know I was depressed.

How could I have not known I was depressed?

Well, mostly, because I was too darn tired to know or feel anything. I knew I was ill, of course, but it was mostly a big mystery to my GP and me. A couple of times this exhaustion coincided with sad events in my life and then I was recommended some counselling. Three months of counselling and I was better and we all patted ourselves on the back and carried on.

The times when everything in the garden was rosy but I still got ill were more confusing. There were blood tests, thyroid tests, even brain scans. Nothing showed up. "You've been over-working: you're just exhausted" was the conclusion a couple of times. "Post viral fatigue" was used on other occasions. If any episode had gone on for longer than six months I'm sure ME would have been diagnosed. None of us thought to connect my socially energetic and workaholic tendencies with the reoccurring lethargy except in a very general way.

My current GP is a bit of a depression specialist and it was she who spotted that a) the exhaustion to the point of being unable to walk more than 50 metres was depression and that b) the rapidity with which it both appeared and lifted (unconnected with circumstances) argued bi-polar. Once I had sat down and listed every incidence I could remember (right back to my mysterious and scary illness when I was seven) it became completely obvious that every two and a half years, with a clockwork regularity, I get ill. Life circumstances have nothing to do with it; bad thoughts have nothing to do with it. Therapy, counselling and drugs help me get through it, but don't stop it happening. Proactively managing the hypo mania or energy burst that occurs before each down does help and enables me to be drug free for most of the time. Having a long cycle helps there too.

So I am adamant that this is a physical thing. The symptoms are physical and mental and it is a physical change in the chemistry of my brain which is responsible for the biology of those symptoms. That's one of the reasons I am happy to take anti-depressant drugs to alleviate some of those symptoms.

So, biology, chemistry and physics; it's all science. Please, all the research scientists out there, find out how we can stop this rollercoaster! It's a fun ride sometimes, but I'll like to get off now.

Mary
A Moodscope member.

Monday, 19 May 2014

A More Abundant Life; part 4 of 7.

Not many people would own up to 'Excretion' being their favourite of the seven signs of life! I'm sure Freud would have something to say to me. I, however, think it is the most important part of my message. (And as a quick reminder the seven signs are: movement, nutrition, reproduction, excretion, growth, respiration, and sensitivity. ALL 7 have to be present and developed for someone to be enjoying a life to the full.)

Excretion

Why do I think this is the most important part of the message? Simply because it reveals the greatest lie sold to humankind: that life is meant to be perfect and free from hardships. This well-marketed delusion is responsible for more unhappiness that anyone can imagine. If we believe life is supposed to be wonderful, every disappointment damages that unsustainable belief.

Nature is not perfect. In fact, there's not a ton of happiness in Nature. Nature is red in tooth and claw. And if you've stopped reading thinking this is a real downer today, read on because what I've got for you is really happiness producing good news!

Why is this good news? Well, only a belief that is true can serve us and lead to contentment. And this is the truth: life is difficult. It always has been. It always will be. The post-war euphoria led to an expectation that society would always be improving – financially, socially, politically. Whole societies developed a sense of dependency and entitlement that doesn't match up to reality. Once we understand that 'excretion' – 'waste' – is a vital part of life, we can stop fighting it as if it is morally wrong, and we can start getting rid of it or recycling it! To put it indelicately but accurately, "Sh** Happens!"

Knowing that everyone faces waste, setbacks and disappointments frees us up from thinking we've done something wrong or that there is something wrong with the World. The art of living life to the full is learning how to deal with this seemingly unnecessary 'waste'.  In a phrase, we need to learn from it and earn from it. Every setback needs to be purposefully used as the fertiliser for new growth.

Simple to say, very challenging to do, which is why I think this is a vital focus for becoming mature.

Helen Keller put it far more eloquently, "A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships." Let us bend whatever happens to us to our advantage – and make it serve our purpose.

Lex
A Moodscope member.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

'Y' is for 'You'.

Over the last week I've been blogging about A.N.X.I.E.T.Y., and now we're on Y, the last of my emails, where I'm going to focus on you – the most important subject of all.

As I mentioned yesterday, at times we may all need professional help, and there's no shame in seeking this through your doctor. However, if you understand your triggers and the way your body and mind work together, you can help yourself overcome anxiety and learn to be your own therapist, which is surely good in the long term. Here are some of the key points from each of the blogs:

Adrenaline is what lies behind the palpitations, perspiration, racing thoughts and shaking associated with anxiety. We need adrenaline to survive, and in certain situations anxiety is helpful, so you'll never get rid of anxiety completely. Fighting it will make it worse; acceptance is the way through.

Now is the only time that matters. Worrying about all the things that could go wrong in the future doesn't make life any more predictable—it only keeps us from enjoying the good things happening in the present. Learn to live with uncertainty and let go of the need for immediate solutions to life's problems.

X-cellence is an exhausting pursuit. No one can be perfect at everything, all the time, so give yourself a break. Being good enough is plenty.

Insomnia. A lack of sleep can exacerbate anxious thoughts and feelings, and it's easy to end up in a vicious circle, worrying about sleeplessness. The more you learn to slow your racing mind, the easier it will be to let go of your problems and get a good night's rest.

Exhalation. When practised regularly, deep breathing can reduce anxiety symptoms and increase feelings of relaxation and emotional well-being.

Triggers to anxiety can't be avoided entirely, but we can learn to recognise our vulnerabilities and greater understanding can go a long way to helping us manage our reactions.

You will come through anxiety. Remember, when you feel panic rising or overwhelmed by anxious thoughts, you are not alone. There are times I struggle to use these tools too, but for the most part they are very helpful when I do use them, and when I'm just too edgy to do anything other than be a bundle of nerves, I try reassuring myself that at some point this feeling will pass.
 
Finally, I'd just like to say thank you for reading. I hope you've found this week's emails helpful. If so, why not them print out and keep them to hand somewhere, so when you're having an anxious day you can dip into them again?

Sarah Rayner
A Moodscope member.

Every day during Mental Health Awareness Week, Moodscope are giving away a signed copy of Sarah Rayner's new novel, Another Night, Another Day, which is available exclusively from Waterstones. Today is your last chance to enter. Just email support@moodscope.com with 'Giveaway' as the subject and we'll pick one person each day to receive a free signed copy.


Caroline
The Moodscope Team.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

'T' is for Triggers.

I'm sorry, I know it's the weekend, but I'm nearly done with my week of blogs looking at A.N.X.I.E.T.Y., and we're up to the letter T, for Triggers, a tricky subject I know. Picture it as a mountain climb – we're giving ourselves one final push to the top, and then we can all relax and enjoy a glorious overview of what we've learned.

Many people who suffer from anxiety find themselves triggered by certain situations or people. Some triggers are obvious – such as getting stuck in a lift or having to give a speech – but others less so. Sometimes we can be triggered when something happens to us in the present which echoes a past bad experience. I get very jumpy when people walk quite close behind me, for instance, and this goes back to a time when a youth ran up and grabbed my handbag. Rationally I know not every pedestrian is about to mug me, and understanding that I've been triggered makes it easier to deal with the rising panic, but still, when I feel someone is walking too close, I tend to step aside and let them pass, so I no longer feel vulnerable.

I'm glad this sensitive subject has come close to the end of this series, as if you look back at my previous blogs, you'll find tools which you can use when you get triggered. The breathing exercises I explained on Thursday can ease symptoms if you're overwhelmed by panic, and many find mindfulness practice (which I touched upon on Tuesday) very valuable.
 
At other times however, we may not know why we're getting triggered – and suggesting it's possible to ease deeper issues in a simple blog would be naïve and irresponsible. Instead I'd recommend seeking professional help. Start by visiting your doctor, who can check that your anxiety isn't caused by a medical condition, such as a thyroid problem, altered blood sugar levels, or asthma. Once a medical cause is ruled out, he or she may be able to prescribe medication. Beta blockers can ease the adrenaline rushes, for example, although they won't treat the underlying cause of your anxiety. To help with this, the next step is to consult a therapist who has experience of anxiety attacks and disorders. The therapist will work with you to determine the type of your anxiety disorder and devise a course of treatment.

Meanwhile, remember, if you can, that it will pass. Nothing in life is permanent, including anxiety.

Sarah Rayner
A Moodscope member.

Every day during Mental Health Awareness Week, Moodscope are giving away a signed copy of Sarah Rayner's new novel, Another Night, Another Day, available exclusively at Waterstones.  Its focus is mental health, and it's a touching yet ultimately uplifting story of ordinary folk living through the extraordinary things life can throw at us all.  Today is another chance to win. Just email support@moodscope.com with 'Giveaway' as the subject and we'll pick one person each day to receive a free signed copy.


Caroline
The Moodscope Team.

Friday, 16 May 2014

'E' is for Exhale.

When you pause to consider, without breath, we have no life: our nervous systems are driven by inhaling and exhaling. It thus follows that by changing our breathing we can influence millions of biochemical reactions in our body. These chemicals have a major impact on us physically and mentally, so, in my fifth blog using the letters of A.N.X.I.E.T.Y., I'm going to share some thoughts on Exhalation.

Many people who experience high levels of anxiety are known to breathe shallowly, through their chest. This disrupts the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide necessary to be in a relaxed state. By slowing the breath and inhaling more deeply, we can bring down the heart rate and reduce the amount of adrenaline the body produces, which helps us calm down.

When you feel anxiety rise, here is a simple technique I've found useful. It's called The Measured Breath.

Sit or stand, but make sure your hands are relaxed and your knees are soft
Drop your shoulders and let your jaw relax
Now breathe in slowly through your nose and count to four, keep your shoulders dowand allow your stomach to expand as you breathe in
Hold the breath for a moment. Now release your breath slowly and smoothly as you count to seven
Repeat for a couple of minutes

Another popular technique is Belly Breathing. It's especially effective when panic or anxiety attacks strike, but I recommend you try it when you feel only slightly stressed so you become familiar with it. Then, if you find anxiety rising or catch yourself hyperventilating, you can start belly breathing immediately and it will help you feel in control, fast.

Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. Make sure your shoulders are down and relaxed. Your stomach should expand, but your chest should rise very little. If you want, you can place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest so you can feel how you are breathing.
Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, purse your lips slightly, but keep tongue and jaw relaxed. You may hear a soft whooshing as you exhale. Listen for that sound every time you practise and learn to value it as the sound of relaxation
Repeat this for several minutes. Make your outgoing breath as long and smooth as you can. The exhalation is the key to relaxation, so give it your full attention

Now you've two tools for managing anxiety that you can take with you anywhere.

Sarah Rayner
A Moodscope member.

Every day during Mental Health Awareness Week, Moodscope are giving away a signed copy of Sarah Rayner's new novel, Another Night, Another Day which is available exclusively from Waterstones. Its focus is mental health, and it's a touching tale of people and their journey through tough times, told with humour and warmth. Today is another chance to win. Just email support@moodscope.com with 'Giveaway' as the subject and we'll pick one person each day to receive a free signed copy.

Caroline
The Moodscope Team.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

'I' is for Insomnia.

When I was a little girl, I used to wake during the night. My solution was to pad into my parents' room, climb into their bed and secure in their presence, I'd fall asleep again at once. Trouble is, they didn't. Eventually they explained, 'Sarah, honey, you'll have to learn to get yourself back to sleep,' so from then on when I woke I would turn my light on and read until I felt tired again. I got through a lot of books (which might explain why I'm a writer now).

Today is my fourth blog using the letters of A.N.X.I.E.T.Y. as inspiration to mark Mental Health Awareness week – 'I' for insomnia – and I appreciate what a nightmare the wide-awake club can be. Replaying past events, worrying about the future, feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities – I've done them all, even though I know mulling only revs up the mind and makes matters worse. After a few hours, the panic at the prospect of getting no sleep feeds on itself, creating a vicious circle.

These days we tend to view sleep as our 'due', but perhaps we have false expectations. The ancients didn't suffer from anxiety about insomnia because they never took sleep for granted. Even as recently as the 18th century, it was the norm for people to sleep in two-parts. Sleeping for eight hours at a stretch is a modern phenomenon and I find it helpful to see my own patterns in this broader context, so you might too.

If you find it hard to sleep, why not try the following today?

Avoid caffeine after 1pm
Avoid heavy meals after 8pm
Avoid alcohol and cigarettes
Eliminate afternoon naps
Exercise, but not close to bedtime
Use a fan to block noise from inside or outside the house
Don't use a laptop or mobile phone after 9pm

And, because I'm convinced that at the root of it all is a wandering mind, I'd also suggest you practise mindfulness. When you're waiting for a lift, standing in a queue, walking up stairs, taking a bite of food, take a few seconds to reflect on where you are and how your body feels. Focus on a few breaths in and out, and get accustomed to letting go of your worries. The more you can do this, the easier it will be to bid farewell to your problems and get a good night's sleep.

Sarah Rayner
A Moodscope member.

Every day during Mental Health Awareness Week, Moodscope are giving away a signed copy of Sarah Rayner's new novel, Another Night, Another Day which is available exclusively from Waterstones. Its focus is mental health, and it's a touching tale of people and their journey through tough times, told with humour and warmth. Today is another chance to win. Just email support@moodscope.com with 'Giveaway' as the subject and we'll pick one person each day to receive a free signed copy.

Caroline
The Moodscope Team.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

'X' is for X-cellence, with another chance to win.

If you suffer from anxiety, chances are that you are obsessed with X-cellence. It's astonishing how many of us anxious-types are perfectionists, so today, in the third of my blogs focusing on A.N.X.I.E.T.Y. where I take one of the letters as a start point, I'm going to look into how believing you have to be X-cellent at all times and anxiousness are linked.
 
Obviously, I'm not advocating losing all sense of ambition, but perfectionists tend to feel even minor imperfections will lead to catastrophe. Believe me, I know. I'm the woman who once cried because I got a 'B' for an essay. I was only 12 at the time, and it shows how far back my perfectionism goes. I even got annoyed I couldn't find a 'proper' word beginning with 'X' for this blog, then I reminded myself I couldn't rewrite the English language single-handed!

Being obsessed with X-cellence makes it scary to make mistakes, so we become fixated on checking, improving, agonising over small details. Striving for perfection is exhausting and unrealistic, and means we're constantly setting ourselves up for failure. Then, when after spending time and effort on something, we don't achieve an A*, we criticize ourselves, which can make us feel depressed, frustrated, angry and – yes, you've guessed it – anxious.

Perfectionism is an example of what's often called distorted thinking; when you think about it, no one can achieve A* for everything. Even the greats have off days. Nadal doesn't win every tennis match. Clooney doesn't get an Oscar for every film. I'd wager even the Queen has days when her smiling and waving is half-hearted – there are plenty of photos when she looks grumpy!

So if even the greats have off-day, you might like to ask yourself what's wrong with you taking a few miss-steps? Being average sometimes? Because recently I've realized: I don't need to be perfect to be a success – and nor do you.

To ease the anxiety that can result from perfectionism, the trick is to learn to let ourselves off the hook. But changing old ways of doing things is hard, and feeling a failure is a very strong emotion, so I suggest you start small. Today, for instance, you could:

Get to an appointment 15 minutes late
Leave your house or flat a little messy
Send a letter or e-mail that includes a few mistakes
Dine in a new restaurant without first researching how good it is

Afterwards, make sure to reward yourself to mark your achievement – or perhaps I should say lack of it! And if you'd like to share how it went, why not comment on the blog? There's no need to be perfect there.

Sarah Rayner
A Moodscope member.

Every day during Mental Health Awareness Week, Moodscope are giving away a signed copy of Sarah Rayner’s new novel, Another Night, Another Day, which is currently available exclusively at Waterstones. Its focus is mental health, but it’s also a real page-turner about people and their imperfections. It’s a story that may resonate with Moodscopers and today is another chance to win. Just email support@moodscope.com with 'Giveaway' as the subject and we'll pick one person each day to receive a free signed copy.

Caroline
The Moodscope Team.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

'N' is for the Power of Now and News of a Giveaway.

This morning I woke up at 4am. Within moments I began worrying – about work, what groceries to buy, taking the cat to the vet, writing this blog – and soon everything snowballed until it was as if my life were one giant to-do list. But then I stopped and laughed: I realized I was doing exactly what I was going to encourage you all not to do! Because on the very day I was due to blog on living in the 'Now' – the 'N' of my series on A.N.X.I.E.T.Y. for Mental Health Awareness Week – I was living in the future, not the present moment myself!

Yesterday I explained how primitive humans needed to be driven by fear to survive, so our brains remain inclined to being anxious even though we're unlikely to have to flee from danger much these days. It's inevitable that anxiety is going to get triggered in us all from time to time, but the trick is to be able to nip it in the bud before it becomes overwhelming. This is where living in the now, also known as 'mindfulness', comes in.

Mindfulness can help alleviate stress and worry, but how does it work?

Most of the time our thoughts drift, unchecked, lurching from one focus to another; one second we're thinking about writing an email, the next what to wear to a function. But when we're mindful, we actively work against this phenomenon and focus wholly on the present moment.

'But how on earth will I get through my to-do list without thinking about everything on it?' you might well be wondering. Here's the good news: mindfulness doesn't mean you have to stop doing one single task; it means you have to stop trying to do everything, all at the same time. We don't often notice, but our senses of touch, smell, sight, and sound are constantly at work, and mindfulness means focusing entirely on your bodily sensations. So instead of multi-tasking or daydreaming, make an active effort to be absorbed in what you're doing, even if it's sweeping the floor or washing up.

Try it now.

Feel the warm muscles of your legs supporting you. Smell the air of spring. Look out of the window at the sky. Listen. And most importantly, quieten your mind. When you're aware only of what you're doing and the sensations of your body in the moment, conscious worry is not possible.

Sarah Rayner
A Moodscope Member.

Here's the News of the give away. Every day during Mental Health Awareness Week, Moodscope is giving away a signed copy of Sarah's new novel, Another Night, Another Day, available exclusively from Waterstones. Its focus is mental health and it features characters from many different walks of life who learn to open their hearts to one another, so it's a story that may resonate with Moodscopers. Just email support@moodscope.com with 'Giveaway' as the subject and we'll pick one person each day to receive a free signed copy.

Caroline
The Moodscope Team.

Monday, 12 May 2014

'A' is for Anxiety, Adrenaline and A Giveaway.

A Week of Anxiety – sounds awful doesn't it? I know – I've been there. The racing heart, the the swirling thoughts, the sweating, the shaking – sometimes it can seem you're about to have a heart attack. It's one of the scariest feelings in the world and also one of the most common; according to the Mental Health Foundation, mixed anxiety with depression is the most widespread mental disorder there is.

However in this instance, I hope a week of anxiousness is a good thing. Because today is the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year focuses on anxiety, so over the next seven days I'm going to be blogging on the subject. I'm Sarah Rayner, an author, and each day I'll be taking a letter from the word as a focus – today is 'A', for adrenaline.

It's a good place to start talking about anxiety, because the role it plays is key.

So, what exactly is anxiety? Personally, it's a word I'd use to describe feeling nervous and panicky. It's normal to be anxious in stressful situations – during exams, before public speaking; if confronted by fear. In fact it can be helpful to be anxious – imagine being threatened by an aggressive animal. Here the burst of adrenaline would bring about a much-needed 'fight or flight' response, useful if you need to escape from a hungry lion.

Adrenaline is linked to blood supply; it drives oxygenated blood into the limbs for a quick getaway and brain so we can make split-second decisions. Blood is taken from areas of the body where it's not needed, such as the stomach, because in a life-threatening situation, you're not going to stop for food. This is often why when you're stressed, you feel sick and unable to eat. Adrenaline is also what lies behind the palpitations, perspiration, racing thoughts and shaking.

Whilst the physical symptoms of anxiety can feel horrible, anxiety is only a problem when it becomes out of proportion, persistent or appears for no apparent reason. This is when the body reacts inappropriately to the strains of everyday living and adrenaline production is triggered in response to situations where we don't actually need to run away or fight for survival. In other words, although we – luckily – live in world where encounters with lions are relatively few and far between, in an anxious person, the body is reacting as if there are hungry lions round every corner.

If you suffer from bad anxiety, you may be aware of this already, but I hope it's useful to be reminded. I find it's easy to get caught up in a cycle of worry and start to panic about the bodily sensations of anxiety as much as the situation that triggered it. When this happens, I gently tell myself it's only anxiety, only adrenaline, that in itself it can't harm me.

I suggest you do the same; even when you're unsure why you're anxious, remind yourself there isn't a lion about to eat you.

Sarah Rayner
A Moodscope member.

Don't forget! Every day during Mental Health Awareness Week, Moodscope is giving away a signed copy of Sarah's new novel, Another Night, Another Day. Its focus is mental health – one of the characters has to cope with bad anxiety and some Moodscopers might find reading of her journey a comfort. Just email support@moodscope.com with 'Giveaway' as the subject and we'll pick one person each day to receive a free signed copy.

Caroline
The Moodscope team.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

A Moodscope giveaway!

You may not be aware, but tomorrow marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year the focus is on anxiety, one of the leading causes of mental ill-health in the world. But before we open that particularly wriggly can of worms, I hope you don't mind if I introduce myself.

I'm Sarah Rayner, and I've been a Moodscope user for three years. Back then my chart was a vertiginous zigzag of ups and downs, and great though those highs feel, I was desperate to work out what triggered such extremes and to morph my chart from something resembling an alpine mountain range into one more like the South Downs, near where I live.

In this process I found being able to track my moods very useful, then when Jon left I offered to write some of these emails. Moodscope had made such a difference to me that I wanted to do a little to help the lovely team who run the site. I've blogged anonymously many times since and I've especially enjoyed the responses from you, my fellow 'scopers.

My day (and sometimes night) job is as an author – a few of you might know One Moment, One Morning, my novel, which was something of a bestseller.

More to the point, my new novel, Another Night, Another Day, is about a subject close to all of our hearts – mental health. It focuses on three people who meet in a psychiatric clinic and explores breakdown from the perspective of those experiencing it, touching on anxiety, depression, bipolar illness, addiction and more, yet is, I believe, funny as well as moving. I hope – like Mental Health Awareness Week and Moodscope – it increases understanding and encourages more openness. Certainly it has a positive message overall.

The book is available exclusively at Waterstones, but now, as a thank you to Moodscope members and to mark this important week, I've arranged with Caroline to give away a signed copy of Another Night, Another Day every day from today until May 19.  Just email support@moodscope.com with 'Giveaway' as the subject and they'll pick one person each day to receive a free signed copy.
 
Tomorrow I'll be writing the first of my blogs about anxiety – a subject I know about from personal experience. But first I just wanted to say 'hello', and 'I get it; I've been there'.

I hope by putting my name to my blogs, I'm helping in a small way to overcome the stigma associated with mental illness. I also hope it might illustrate it's possible to get better – because whilst my chart still isn't quite as gently undulating as I'd like, it's lot less alpine than it used to be.

Sarah Rayner
A Moodscope member.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Finding peace.

Six months ago I was lucky enough to be given six weeks counselling on the NHS; lucky because this therapist explained and laid to rest the mystery of why I was treated the way I was as a child by my mother.

It transpires she has a condition called 'Borderline Personality Disorder'. As to my father's behaviour, she drew a blank.

As an example, when I was young my brother was always called darling - I was Penny!

There were times when I was suddenly ignored, not spoken to or smiled at for days on end.

Cruel things were said to me completely out of context, interfering with my seemingly innocent day to day life, leading to confusion and guilt as to "what had I done now"!

Low self esteem led to me becoming a victim and being bullied at school.

Later, unnecessary phone calls with messages from my mother, passed on via my father - Christmas was disappointing. The plates weren't hot on Christmas Day. Where was the trifle? The presents weren't up to much and the grandchildren didn't thank them enough, or give them presents that matched what had been given to them.

After years of putting up with feelings of guilt and misery, a complete nervous breakdown and two courses of anti-depressants I am coming in to the light.

I have said NO MORE!!

Reading up on Borderline Personality Disorder, allowing only those that love & respect me into my life, loving myself and nurturing the young Penny too, has, at last, after 55 years brought peace!

Penny
A Moodscope member.

Friday, 9 May 2014

"I do therefore I am."

Having been a serial jouster with depression and anxiety for a good 30 years, I now accept that my impressionability as a student some 30 years ago allowed the germination of my own 30 Year War.

Some 30 years ago an overdose of French 20th Century literature was received by my melancholic mind. This translated into "we are just filling time with activities to reach death, so why bother doing", coupled with "I am responsible for my life and there is no God". Add on some gritty post-war German literature – very anti-materialistic and questioning – and this was all heavy duty on a studious Scottish middle class 20 Year Old's shoulders.

No giving myself a break there. Coinciding with the premature death of my mother, I  was catapulted into a "seize the day" philosophy, hurling myself into work to avoid the pain  and frantic packing it all in in case I would die young as well. I had repetitive strain injury of the brain with Billy Joel's "Only the good die young" incessantly accompanying the bass line of "You are morally responsible for life. There is nobody to help you in this sole journey. You make your destiny". Go out there into Thatcherite Britain and make your Dad proud, pay back for all the education.

Of course I burnt out at a young age and never fully recovered as those beliefs were like an undercurrent anthem – unknowingly draining my energy and tormenting me. During the collapse phases, thinking and thinking about the futility of living, taking leaps and falling again, abandoning 'doing' as it just leads to pain and exhaustion, yet thinking and thinking just leads to anxiety. Dreams don't become plans or actuality. Anxiety and ingrained nihilism make sure of that.

And then in one moment of surrender, I turned my belief system round from "I think therefore I am" to "I do therefore I am".

Corny as it sounds it was my New Year's Resolution and an achievable one as well! Why make myself battle? The scratching of procrastination is to be silenced. Take the hopes and ideas and do.

"Start small, Lesley. Sow seeds in garden and watch them grow...Ooh that worked!"
"Start a guided freedance session, go on, get the music together, the theme, use what you have learned in the past 15 years about body awareness. Share the joy with others! It doesn't have to be perfect."

I can smile today. Just got a feeling that there's been a surrender in the 30 Years War. Nihilism has lost. A fair peace treaty is being reached with one clause:- "I do therefore I am".

Lesley
A Moodscope user.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Chapters of Your Life...

All of us at some point, get frustrated about repeating a behaviour which does not serve us well. Such behaviours (or relationships) can lead to disappointment, anger, hurt and even depression.

The fact is - changing habits is tough stuff.

We can even see this challenge from the many comments on the blogs, as we seek our own answers assisted by the many personal writings and growing supportive comments. Many of us feel what others are talking about; we've been down a similar path or sidewalk.

This story is the simplest, clearest metaphor I know, which so clearly demonstrates how tough change can be and also who has to take responsibility for change.

See what you think, or more importantly feel.

Porsha Nelson was given a 5x7 card and asked to write down the 5 Chapters of her life at the end of a seminar and she wrote this.

Chapter 1
I walk down the street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in
I am lost I am helpless
It isn't my fault
And it takes me forever to find m way out.

Chapter 2
I walk down the same street
There is deep hole in the sidewalk
I pretend I don't see it
I fall in again
I can't believe I am in the same place
But it isn't my fault
And it still takes me a long time to get out.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I see it there
I still fall in
It's a habit
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault
And I get out immediately

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down another street.

Now as a tool for self awareness - which chapter are you in right now? Have you taken responsibility for the sidewalk you are walking down? How can you move onto the next chapter?

Who can you discuss it with to help you see more clearly? (Your Moodscope buddy perhaps.)

If you are at chapter 5 - how can you avoid chapter 1 again and how can you help others to see the sidewalk they are on?

"When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge."  Tuli Kupferberg.

Les
A Moodscope member.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Let's Hear it for the Drugs!

No – I don't mean Cannabis or Ecstasy or Cocaine – we depressives should probably steer clear of those even more than most people; I'm talking about the good old fashioned Prozac, or Fluoxetine.

Like many people, for many years I was determined never to take any "happy pills": I didn't want to walk through life in a smiling daze or become a zombie. Of course, I conveniently chose to ignore the fact that the depression changes me into something resembling a miserable zombie in a daze anyway!

A couple of things changed my mind. The first was that motherhood meant I had more responsibilities: I couldn't just retreat back to bed for days at a time when I was ill because someone had to feed and look after the children while my husband was at work. The second was a conversation I had with my sister, who at the time was an industrial pharmacist working on drugs used to treat schizophrenia (she's now an organic farmer and much happier, by the way).

She told me not to be concerned, and that the fluoxetine would not make me falsely happy or mean that I shuffled through life in a trance. She explained that this drug works in harmony with your own natural serotonin. It gets it up in the morning, keeps it going during the day and doesn't let it go to sleep until a reasonable time. Basically, yes, it does increase your levels of serotonin – the "happy" chemical in your brain.

Anyone who's read any recent science blogs will know that her explanation is now considered to be naive at best or misleading at worst, but at the time we had the conversation that was what the pharmaceutical companies and doctors believed. Apparently they now say they don't know how it works, or indeed, why it takes ten days or so for the patient to feel the effects when the serotonin levels are increased within hours of first taking the pills. That's medical science for you.

So it's a mystery. But it is still a moderately effective mystery. Fluoxetine works for me, up to a point. I am still weak, shaky, easily tired and have to manage life very carefully. The Moodscope score is still hovering around the high teens instead of the mid-seventies, but there is some sunshine in the darkness, even if it is a wintery sunshine at best. The gloom has lightened.

Fluoxetine allows me to feel hope and to know that this depression will not last forever. I wish there was something better and I would take it as readily as antibiotics for an infection. Until there is I'll keep swallowing these "happy pills", not because they make me happy but because they make things just a little more bearable.

Mary
A Moodscope member.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A More Abundant Life; part 3 of 7.

Today's characteristic of a more abundant 'Life' is 'Reproduction'. (The seven signs being: movement, nutrition, reproduction, excretion, growth, respiration, and sensitivity.)

Whilst eagerly anticipated by some (so I'm told!), the subject of reproduction is uncomfortable for many - so let me start by asserting this isn't going to be about having children. Humans have evolved way beyond the drive-for-life as expressed in most other species. Our desire to reproduce extends to our ideas, our culture, our skills, our interests and even our character.

Reproduction or Pro-Creation.

Being addicted to creativity, I would naturally love a word like "procreation" – a state that is favourably disposed towards being creative. My belief is that this is a shared purpose of life for all of us – to be creative. For an abundant life, we need to have a sense that we have given the best of us to others in a form that endures. A painting, a poem, a novel, a photograph – all these endure and transfer something of our essence and perspective on life.

Digging deeper, we find a need to transfer something of our characteristics or even our passions. I notice (not always with pleasure) that those around me have picked up many aspects of my personality. I seem to have "rubbed off" on them. If I were to choose which characteristics were reproduced in those I love, my list would be very different.

And so here is today's challenge: which aspects of your personality or character would you choose to have reproduced in those you influence? Often these will be visible behaviours driven by invisible beliefs. I know that I love "kindness" above all other values. Whilst I am not always "kind", it still sits there as a defining desire-to-be in my personality... and thus leaks occasionally into my behaviours. To be remembered as a kind and gentle-man would be a triumph. Also to be spoken of as an "inspirational-creative" would tick all the right boxes for me. Thus, when somebody says to me, "Because of you, I have taken up an interest in photography," I smile and know that I have reproduced a passion I value into others.

This is the highest value I see in those who are teachers by "vocation". There is something in them, a passion and enthusiasm, that is contagious, and thus reproduced. I would not be the man I am today if it wasn't for two teachers whose passion for their subject and belief in me reproduced a level of their own excellence in me. That, my friends, is a high expression of living a life to the full. Thank you Barbara, thank you Joe.

Lex
A Moodscope member.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Do you ever H.A.L.T. to help yourself? revisited.

A frantic phone call from a stranded hubby was a rude awakening for me this morning: "The car's been stolen" (with apologies to anyone who has experienced this). Throwing on some clothes I set off to rescue him, mind whirring, not quite able to believe it. Normal reaction I guess.

By the time I reached him (twenty minutes later) he ruefully admitted that it hadn't been stolen; he had simply walked down the wrong street. Now, when you consider that he had been at an emergency dentist appointment, having hardly slept all night because of the raging toothache and ongoing back ache, then I think you will agree it was not a surprising mistake.

The incident reminded me of Les' excellent post "Do you ever H.A.L.T. to help yourself" Friday 21st March. "The real value of the acronym 'H.A.L.T.' is that when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, it's best not to make any important decisions about what to do, where to go, or your direction in life."

I think that we can also apply H.A.L.T. to everyday life; if we are feeling hungry, thirsty, tired, in pain, aching, sad, angry etc. then we need to allow ourselves time to recover and to regroup. (Hubby has taken himself off for an afternoon rest as I write this and I can hear him laughing over whatever he is reading).

We ask too much of ourselves and of our minds and bodies if we expect to feel happy, positive, energetic, lively etc. all the time. I don't know about you, but I tend to beat myself up for my low moods. We need to give our overworked bodies and minds a chance to recharge. We need to be gentle, accepting and nurturing of ourselves. We need to remind ourselves that "all things pass, and this too will pass in time".
 
Frankie
A Moodscope member.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

I believe in you all...

Why do people say "If you're ever feeling down, pop by for a coffee". Really? When I saw you at school last week you walked straight by me as if I didn't exist. Is this just my loneliness coming through or am I sending out bad vibes?

One thing I have decided is that social networking is not good for people with depression or any other mental health problems. I got so fed up of feeling low because people didn't like my posts, or jealousy, seeing what I assumed to be people living the perfect life, or the not so perfect life maybe!

You added me on Facebook, but when I see you in the street you act as if you dont know me?! Nothing has achieved the feat of making me feel quite so lonely as Facebook has managed to, so I decided to do something about it.

I have now been Facebook free for the best part of a week and I am so glad. I just wish it had been sooner! I am so looking for a buddy and have now taken to replacing 'Fakebook' efforts with a blog to you guys; the real, decent people who truly understand...I believe in you all...

Did I just blog my feelings today? Erm I think I just did :) Although this isn't twitter, I just want to say #massiveacheivement.

Holly
A Moodscope member.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The storm will end.

I'm a fairly happy person; enthusiastic, talkative and full of plans, but I've always had a bit of a dark side. Up one day, down the other. The same world, different colors. It took me at least fifteen years to figure out that there actually was a pattern to my mood swings.

There are days I see the world in a very dark light, days when my one and only task is to remind myself it will pass, that my life is not as bad as the poison in my mind is telling me it is. And it happens every month around the same days in my cycle. It's one to five days of depression every month, because my mind reacts badly to my hormones.

After logging my mood for months (thanks Moodsope!), my GP put me on anti-depressants some years ago. It felt wrong to take medication the whole time only to make life easier on a couple of days. So I stopped. Then I got pregnant and the monthly monster disappeared. I forgot how bad it was, but its back now, with a vengeance because post-pregnancy PMS (or PMDD as this darker version is called) seems to be worse. A grey mist that make days so very hard to get through.

The great thing is, that is passes. The bad thing is, that it always comes back. I feel my shoulders getting tense, I become more grumpy, and then at some point, it strikes. The poison lands in my head and all is negative. I have failed in life. Life is out to get me. I hate everyone (and I should email them and let them know). I could beat people up. Never did, but I felt like it. Two days later, its back to normal.

I share this, because I don't actually read that much about it and it must be a very real problem for quite a number of women. Many of my friends get grumpy, puffy, in need of chocolate and that's bad enough. But some hate themselves so fiercely once a month, we have to tell each other it's just the hormones, it's not reality.

And that's the most valuable lesson I get out of this monthly challenge. Tie yourself to the mast and the storm will end. I have created a nice first aid package for Mrs. Hyde. A note listing the topics that my mind should not wonder off to. A reminder to read a book, watch a film, send my friends a message. Not to write any angry emails or any bitter reactions online. Not to pick fights because they make it worse. To play with my daughter. To sleep. And to remember that it will pass.

Rose
A Moodscope member.

Friday, 2 May 2014

A More Abundant Life; part 2 of 7.

As Les recently engaged us with the wisdom choosing which wolf to feed, today's characteristic of a more abundant 'Life' is 'Nutrition'. (The seven signs being: movement, nutrition, reproduction, excretion, growth, respiration, and sensitivity.)

Nutrition.

Nutrition features richly in the Moodscope blogs – with most of us, I'm sure, signing up to the fact that what you eat affects your mood. We've even shared great recipes – something I hope we'll continue to do. However, today I'm using 'Nutrition' metaphorically to represent that which we feed on to give us energy.

Many of us have worked in organisations where we were fed the 'Junk Food' of broken promises, lies and covert communication. We've also all experienced the joy of honest, 'authentic' communication – that allows us to be who we are, and to say just how we are. Surely this is one of the greatest gifts of a Moodscope buddy – to take us just as we are, sometimes just to listen, and sometimes to feed us with wise words that bring life.

My imagination was captured by Les' tale of the two warring wolves in the mind of the wise Indian – one seeking darkness, and one seeking light. The victory went to the mind-wolf that the Indian fed more. So what is good nutrition for the wolf of light?

Part of good nutrition comes down to the way you chew! Chew your food well and you'll give your digestive system the best start you can offer it. I chew all the time – in the sense that I ruminate – think the same sort of thoughts over and over and over until they are digested. Of course, I feed the wolf of darkness often. So, today, I need to chew over and over on thoughts that move me forwards into the embrace of the wolf of light.

These are thoughts of what is good in my life. Thoughts of what is true and authentic and honest. Thoughts that point me to what is noble in those I know – what they do that I admire. And I conclude here with an example of great food to give others to nourish their life to the full: a genuine, specific, heart-felt and heart-warming compliment.

Perhaps to best feed ourselves on the energy-rich nectar of encouragement, we should practice first offering it to others?

Lex
A Moodscope member.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

To risk is to be real.

"The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us and are silent when we should speak, in that moment the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls."  Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 - 1902)

I like this quote from E.C. Stanton, which challenges us to be truthful and open. It is all too easy to hide and avoid any real risk of showing ourselves; for sure, there are times when either you need to feel safe and stay 'inside' or may quite simply not trust someone enough because of how they make you feel.

For those who regularly read the blogs however, we can see - or should I say we can 'feel' when we believe someone is showing vulnerability (being deeply authentic and truthful) and we can also then see and read the many marvellous comments that follow - dare I say 'flow', from that contributors wonderful spirit where 'floods of light and life flow'.

It is that small risk of showing our true self that ignites that spirit in others - a risk that is of course easier and ultimately safer to avoid - but at what cost? (To both yourself and your own community).

Such 'risks' often inspire others and the word inspire comes from the Latin 'Spiro' meaning to breathe - so to 'in-spire' is to breathe life into.

If you can - take a risk today - even if it is in taking some time to 'inscape' to surprise yourself at what you find. You may find that you not only 'in-spire' yourself but add 'light and life' to others, as we have so often recently seen in Moodscope, especially Andra's first blog.

This poem says it all for me:

RISK

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool,
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out for another is to risk involvement,
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your ideas, your dreams before the crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return, 
To live is to risk dying, 
To hope is to risk despair,
To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing and is nothing.

They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love or live.

Chained by their certitudes, they are slaves, they have forfeited their freedom.

Only a person who risks is truly free.

How free are you today, this moment, now?

Les
A Moodscope member.