First Exhibit…

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Whilst painting has never been something i necessarily do to express my emotions (unlike a lame tampon commercial i’m not going to have a ‘blue period’ any time soon), it has always been part of my self-care and identity. My first exhibit is meaningful not just because it’s pretty cool for people to tell you your stuff is awesome but because when i get a bit lost and worried about work and my health it’s a very good reminder i should ground myself in the other parts of my identity. I’ve found it easy to lose sight of things since work began to dominate 80% of my time 8 months ago and this exhibit is an excellent poke in the ribs that i’m not just my job and i can still have fun and be creative.

Of all the places to get my first proper exhibition the Edge Cafe on Mill Road couldn’t be more perfect, it’s focus around supporting recovery in the community, forming connections, support networks and providing a safe and calm space is something very special. If any of you have read my blog for a while you know the last thing i can stand is a dim, ever so slightly grotty building aimed at supporting those with mental health challenges whilst simultaneously being the most depressing building you’ve ever been in. It’s therefore a revelation to have a space created that is light and airy and filled as much with the builders from next door having a bacon sarnie as it is people engaging with workshops and support provided. Places like the Edge Cafe are exactly what we need to create if we are to engage the local community in spaces aimed at breaking stigma and supporting those with mental health challenges.

For anyone interested in attending workshops, events (i’m heading on down to the open mic night on the 7th which so far has proved to be great fun!) or simply reading more about their mission you can check them out here:

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For anyone who would like to pander to my shameless plug you can check out my work at http://www.hannahtouhey.com or follow me on Facebook here.

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The Balancing Act

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Step 1 – Work clothes!!

Morning everyone!

As most of you will know I tend to write the most when i’m pooped and my insomnia is terrible so HELLO! I’ve been up since 4:30am,  admittedly not very well but still it’s very frustrating seeing as I’ve had a nice little bank holiday and was feeling very well rested but what can you do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about work/life balance the past couple of weeks as I started a new job (same department, same organisation so don’t get too excited) at the start of August. At first I was like ‘literally why have I decided to do this when I just got on top of the last one, can I not give myself a break and coast for a bit’ but alas I have a bit of a complex about proving myself after years on benefits. That said i’m really enjoying it and definitely feel very challenged which is always good when you feel like your brain turned to mush for a couple of years. Not being funny but I’m crushing this new job and the downside to that is I’ve been finding it quite hard to switch off. I realised my sleep was a bit all over the place and I was waking up thinking about rotas which is both lame and problematic and I decided I needed to make some changes.

Firstly I’ve become terrible at finishing my day on time and have a tendency to over stay my hours if something needs finishing up. As my friend noted I am not paid enough to do that and the perk of low paying jobs is you can clock off at 5pm and not worry too much – or you shouldn’t anyway; so that was the first thing to go. I’ve noticed there really is a toxic unspoken idea that dedication = over extending yourself and it’s hard to escape, I work for an organisation that actively discourages this approach but I still get sucked in. I am exceptionally lucky that my first ever Manager preached the good stuff, she informed me that a) you do not need to be reserved or overly boundaried to remain professional and b) hierarchy in the workplace is nonsense and we all go home and get into joggers and binge on Netflix at the end of the day. As a result I simply need to remind myself of these things and I ground myself into remembering work is just work and I need to leave on time.

Secondly I’ve gotten good at coming home knackered and not cooking, exercising or engaging in self-care which is a shame since I was crushing it a while back. Some of you may know that I have chronic health conditions which cause me to get really tired and/or be quite unwell a lot. At the moment I’m still sussing out how to engage in self-care without tiring myself out so I’ll often go for a swim, do a food shop and then need a nap. As a result I get fed up and stew in sweet resentment and don’t bother with anything. So step 2 has been to identify the key things that need doing e.g a food shop, washing and keeping the house clean and prioritise those, if I don’t cycle to work or swim it’s not the end of the world.

Thirdly and weirdly my smart casual workplace dress code has thrown me, whilst it’s great because I don’t need to worry too much about looking snazzy each day my home clothes are my work clothes and I’ve noticed this isn’t always useful. I now have a 3 step approach to clothing: step 1) work clothes that are clearly identifiable as work clothes, step 2) lounge clothes, as soon as I get in from work I change into doss clothes that signal the end of the day, step 3) pyjamas, an hour before bed to signal that it’s time to sleep. This generates a lot of washing but is a good way of sectioning out my day.

Fourthly ensuring I make time for a sleep routine, I’ve got sucked into the habit of watching TV till i’m too exhausted to do my teeth and crashing out which means I don’t wind down enough and switch off. I’ve recently noticed how much of a hangover effect I get from my sleeping pills and so i’m trying to wean myself off them which is sort of working. Last week I slept through most days but so far i’ve found that as soon as I mess up that schedule by like, I don’t know, going for a drink and staying up later than 10pm, my body clock stubbornly refuses to revert back. I also refuse to not have a life and just become a loser that always goes to bed at 10pm in her Disney pyjamas so i’m resolutely sticking to waking up at 7:30am every morning, or in this case 4:30am (still not over it).

Finally i’ve made a conscious effort to balance my socialising outside of work. The main thing I resent about Bipolar is the fact i constantly need to self-monitor to ensure I don’t trigger myself into an episode which when i’m tired can be quite easy. I do this by balancing time alone with time socialising, we all do this but I’ve become hyper aware recently of how important it is. Last week I took Friday off to extend the bank holiday but then spent time with people back to back till yesterday, it sounds super sad but I noticed myself start to get anxious and overwhelmed quickly and ensured I had a day to myself yesterday to unwind. On the one hand it’s frustrating to be constantly weighing up how much fun is too much fun but on the other hand I know full time work is exhausting and i need to not overstimulate.

All of these changes seem to be sort of working but it’s been interesting to me how easy it is to fall into the pattern of overworking and lose perspective of what matters. I’m a big believer that no-one gets to the end of their life wishing they had worked more and we need to prioritise the things that really matter. That isn’t to say you can’t be passionate about your work or committed to it but we need to drop the idea that a good employee is one who goes ‘the extra mile’, it’s unhelpful and doesn’t encourage us to work to the best of our ability. Recently I spoke to a palliative care Nurse and asked her how she doesn’t take it home, she replied ‘you have to be able to switch off otherwise you’d be no good to your patients’ and I have decided to live by this rule so I am good for my colleagues, clients and most importantly myself.

Crushing it…

This week i’ve averaged about 4 hours sleep a night which is slowly taking it’s toll on my mood and my face. Insomnia is such a bitch and makes absolutely no sense to me, i currently pray for heat exhaustion to take me slowly into a blissful dehydrated sleep. I’m not entirely sure why it’s happening because i’m doing the most exercise i’ve done in months (which isn’t hard because i’ve pretty much been a blob on the sofa) and my sleep hygiene is ON POINT, which only goes to show that insomnia is rather fickle. When i’m feeling a little hypomanic this kind of non sleep is a warning sign i frequently ignore because i wake up feeling so god damn productive and alert; it is during these times my flat is immaculate and i have food prepared for the week by 8am on a Monday morning. This current type of insomnia is not a warning sign because i wake up and have a little cry because i am so tired.

Having insomnia and a full time job is a bit of a new world for me, in the past if i woke up at 3am i’d just take a sleeping tablet and knock myself out till 10am but seeing as i should be at my desk at 10am this is a no go. Sleeping tablets generally stay in your system for around 8-10 hours so it’s a bit of a judgement call as to when you can take them. At the moment i’m exhausted and fall straight asleep but then wake up a few hours later and can’t get a song out of my head (usually an annoying one by Little Mix) or i begin to list the things i could be doing if i had energy.

All this said i am surprised (and impressed) that i am at work everyday and functioning well. This was always one of my biggest concerns about working, that sleep was such a trigger i’d become a hypomanic whirlwind of productivity and inappropriate emails. Now discharged from services i worried no one would be there to notice this decline (or incline) into oblivion and my colleagues would be on the periphery like ‘well she’s sorted the filing cabinet in 20 minutes but she’s also telling Brian to F off, should we say something?’. The reality of course is that 1. i am self aware enough to see the gradual shift and 2. no HR team is going to let me send a 1000 word essay on the outrageousness of providing unbranded coffee.

I am wary of any kind of celebration of my ability to work because it feels like i’m giving the conservatives a little pat on the back for pushing me into it but i remind myself that they gave me the shove and it’s just sheer luck and hard work that i had metaphorical upper body strength to pull myself up. That said i’m finally crushing it, this week i cycled to work 4 days, went for a swim twice and actually sat and ate with people at lunch which is a thing i never do because i’m usually pooped and need some mental space midday. My flat is tidy, my washing is done and there are no huge jobs looming, it’s not in a frantic buzzy way just in a ‘ah cool, i’ve got myself together’ kind of way. I’ve realised that the image i had of working professionals perfectly put together with healthy lunches and immaculate homes is really just based on my one friend i saw after work this time who looked like she stepped out of Suits, it’s not the norm. Everyone has times where they come home and watch TV for 5 hours straight (Love Island why must you sink your teeth into me) or buy a ready meal or get straight into their pjs, that’s not a mental health thing that’s just life.

The routine of work and the validation i get from doing something meaningful with my time is really great and i can see that whilst sometimes i’m like ‘arghh i just need sleep’ i’m also making friendships and being challenged in a way i haven’t been since i graduated. This was all realised for me on my birthday a month ago when i came to work to flowers, presents, cards, bunting and cake. Usually on my birthday i’m like ‘cool still alive and doing literally nothing, awesome’ but this year i was like ‘cool still alive, awesome’. That may not sound like much, it’s literally just removing 4 words, but those 4 words are huge for me. I have genuinely spent the last few years watching my friends get good jobs, make other friends and generally have fun and i’ve been sat at home with earl grey tea and having sleepovers with a borrowed dog from the village. I love that stuff but its also nice to go for a drink in the evening and have brunch with people and do regular in your 20’s stuff. The very fact i haven’t been blogging much is an indicator that i am busy having fun and don’t have huge amounts of free time anymore, THAT IS UNHEARD OF FOR ME. This new realm of enjoying life is a big deal and i am very grateful for all the support around me that has allowed me to reach this point :).

 

The article everyone is talking about..

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Yes, yes, yes!! Several people had recommend i read this article before i stumbled across it this afternoon whilst cooking pizza, tindering and perusing the Guradian and i have to say i’m a bit obsessed with it. Whilst there are some aspects i can’t relate to or disagree with (there will always be a need to increase normality around mental health conversation in my opinion) a frustration with the mental health system and the concept of ’empowerment’ as a covert way to devalue or critique someones feelings or ability to get well i certainly can. Such an interesting read so make sure you check it out (it’s a bit long so make a cuppa first or in this heat set yourself up with a fan and an ice lolly). 🙂

Click here for the link to ‘it’s nothing like a broken leg; why i’m done with the mental health conversation’

‘Stop Suicide’ survey!

CaptureHi all,

hope you’re having a great day! If you have time please do complete this survey (probably takes about 5 minutes) on their marketing campaign – you’ll probably have seen it! I had a bit (understatement) of an issue with the ‘choose to live’ comment at the end so kindly sent them an email detailing why that was insensitive but you might love it! Do send them an email if you have anything to note as there isn’t much scope for you to make wider comments! you can email them at:survey@cpslmind.org.uk

Cheers! 

Click here for a link to the survey!

 

 

My goodness work is hard work..

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Ensuring i keep up the gratitude journal!

As most of you will know i recently (and by recently i mean January now) started full time employment after 5 years of being on disability benefits. Due to the restructuring of the benefit system i was reassessed and despite having been deemed to never need to work again i was all of a sudden stripped of my benefits and asked to gain full time employment. As you can imagine this was exceptionally stressful and not exactly helped by the fact my current employer was unwilling to fund me going full time, which meant finding a whole new place of work.

I’m now coming into my fifth month and geeze louise it’s hard work. As my Aunt noted yesterday i began work at the absolute worst time of the year, when it’s pitch black when you go to work and pitch black when you leave; at the time i recall thinking ‘cool, so literally my skin will not have access to the daylight now, well that’s good to know’. I was also heavily using, and have been up until the past week, sleeping tablets to ensure i slept through because there was definitely no way i was going to be able to function at work without sleep. This meant i was groggily traipsing into work in the dark attempting to shake off sedation before i arrived. The combination of dark and exhaustion meant i came home and lay comatose on my sofa unable to make something resembling a healthy meal and staring at the ceiling awaiting a time that was reasonable to go to bed.

The past 4 months have essentially been a constant state of half existence, i realised early on that i could get through work but i literally couldn’t socialise without being too pooped to be fully engaged at work the next day. Furthermore i had gone from spending 5 days a week solidly on my own to being thrust into a busy office in which everyone wants to talk and people are coming in and out. Initially i said i’d give myself a couple of weeks of being a hermit at lunchtime and then i’d engage but actually i need the half hour break to just wind down. As a result the idea of seeing friends became a ‘erghhh more socialising’ rather than the treat is usually was which meant i was officially working to not live. As the washing piled up on my bedroom floor and the washing up grew new life forms in my kitchen sink i hit a breaking point and called for back up. Lucky for me that week my friend arrived with food and cleaning products (and i literally love her so much for that) and my mum arrived to help me sort my flat out.

It’s taken 4 months but i am beginning to get into the swing of things a little bit and am realising however great your organisation is you need to look after your own mental health, after all they’re not mind readers. When i first started i wanted everyone to think i was awesome and be all ‘this kid is amazing, you would never know she’s just come off benefits and is a wreck at home because she is so high functioning here she’s smashing it’….which is a fair bit of pressure to place on a human. I then burnt out and had no life and had to do a full on benefit system and reassess (yeah that’s a dig), i realised i was too sedated when i began my day and changed my hours to allow myself more time in the morning to wake up; i then organised to work from home once a week so i could have a quiet brain and i quit berating myself for not cycling everyday and caught the bus. At first i felt super frustrated, like i was the token mental health person and i was letting the team down because people would associate me with mental health and mental health with being a huge pain in the ass but i’ve since realised a few things:

  1. My mental health is first and foremost my responsibility and i need to speak up and vocalise what i need if i expect people at work to provide that.
  2. There is a big difference to chilling out on your own in a clean tidy flat with some candles watching a movie to lying comatose on the sofa in a mound off grossness on your own crying and snot covering your hoody.
  3. If you only eat junk food that requires a microwave you can expect to feel like poop, gain 10 pounds and wobble when you move but that can be ok if you exercise self compassion and acknowledge that you are doing what you need to get by for a bit and it’s not for the long term.
  4. It is very hard to do 10,000 steps a day when you spend 8 hours of it sat at a computer.
  5. That it’s ok to switch off at the end of the day, to not work overtime or stay late to finish something, that’s not a reflection of your ability or dedication, work is important and should be done well but no one is on their death bed wishing they worked more…
  6.  That actually when i do socialise or spend time doing things i enjoy outside of work i am more excited and engaged at work. This is a big revelation for me since those first few months of resting at every opportunity like a woman from the victorian period on a chaise lounge.
  7. That taking the odd day off here and there is so important and i should not assume that when i do people are contemplating why they employed me.
  8. Sitting at a computer in sterile lighting all day is not good for ones mental or physical health and whilst it may look like a cop out those DS breaks are something people should do….they should also quit eating lunch at their desks like there haven’t been 500 studies about why that’s stupid.
  9. The benefits system is ridiculous and unfair and will penalise me whatever i do, a case in point is the fine of £50 i was asked to pay because i only told them i had began work (that thing they made me do) 6 days after i started and not on my first day, because obviously everyone takes time out of their first day to make a 45 minute phone call…
  10. Once you share your experiences, even just a little, people are significantly more inclined to support you and cut you some slack, my colleague literally tells me off if i become too self deprecating, like ‘Hannah quit over investing because you think we think you’re rubbish because we think you’re great but doing too much work’, which is a cool vibe to have.

Things are slowly improving and a large part of that is about cutting myself some slack and ensuring i am enjoying my time outside of work. If anyone has been in a similar boat i would advise them to show a little self compassion and acknowledge if you were strong enough to get through your own challenges you can for sure get through this one ( ergh that sounds like a quote you’d find on a canvas and i HATE those).

Life Challenges Quotes Interesting 30 New Inspirational Quotes About Life Challenge Success

Happy International Happiness Day!

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Happy International Happiness Day peeps! Today i chose to take a moment to reflect and be grateful for my amazing friends and family who have rallied around in the past week to support me when i had a bit of a ‘errr why can’t i function in life right now and why am i unable to approach the washing up?’ moment. My friend came by with prepared trays of food for a sleepover so that i didn’t need to cook, these daffodils and a bag of cleaning products so she could clean for me (luckily her visit prompted cleaning of the flat which was very much needed). My mum then came and took me for coffee and did some jobs i needed doing that were feeling overwhelming. It meant i ended the weekend feeling calmer and have started this week on a much better foot! I hope you’ve all had a wonderful day