Managing Emotional distress

Ever since October 2017, I’ve been experiencing attacks of what I can only call extreme emotional distress. I don’t want to get into the details of what happened back then, but basically, a particular “event” seems to have somehow released all the emotional pain that I’d been repressing for about twenty-five years.

This has made my life really difficult. I feel like I can be ambushed at any moment and plunged into a pit of grief, despair and rage. Once I’m in there, it’s very hard to climb out again.

After a few weeks of feeling okay, I had another attack yesterday. I felt awful all day, aching chest and head, depressed, constant intrusive, negative thoughts, and it ended with a full on screaming/crying meltdown in the kitchen.

I’ll give myself yesterday, but I really need to get on top of this. The first thing I think I have to do is accept that these feelings aren’t just going to stop or go away, which is what I’ve been hoping. The gaps between attacks do seem to have got longer, but I think that’s more down to me getting better at avoiding the things that trigger the feelings, then any actual healing. When the feelings do come, they are as a strong and overwhelming as ever.

I know could get more proactive about managing my emotional state on a day-to-day basis, but here are some things that I think I could put into place for those times when I do feel myself being dragged into the “pit of despair”.

  • Create a safe place to be sad

Make a designated place in our living environment where I can go when I’m feeling really bad, where it’s okay to scream and cry into a pillow if I need to, or to just lie there and stare at the walls. It needs to be quiet and comfortable and stocked with soft toys (the distress seems to be coming from a very “young” part of me and cuddling soft toys is actually one of the few things that’s guaranteed to help).

  • Put together some tear-jerking “resources”

One of the problems is that, as someone who spent years disconnected from their emotions, I now find it very difficult to cry. This means that I end up with a horrible build-up of bad feelings that I can’t release until it comes to a crisis and I have a total meltdown. But, there are some things that always get the waterworks going (the death of the Mars Rover anyone?) and it might be good idea to access them as soon as I feel the pressure starting to build.

  • Allocate a notebook just for ranting

I’m someone who processes experience through writing (like I’m doing right now). It helps to get things out of my head and onto a page, but I don’t want to fill my nice journal with lots of awful, negative thoughts that make me feel ashamed when I read over them later. So, I could have a notebook as a dumping ground just for this stuff. I can rip out the pages or burn it when I’m done.

  • Log out of Social Media

If I’m honest with myself, the majority of these attacks have been triggered by stuff I’ve seen on twitter or Facebook. I don’t want to give up social media because I do still get a lot out of it and I love interacting with people, but I also need to accept and get better at managing the more harmful aspects, especially when I’m already feeling fragile.

  • Get better at aftercare

So far, my approach has been “Phew, glad that’s over, let’s get on with life”, because I’ve learned to deal with my mental health issues by POWERING THROUGH! I think I probably need to have an aftercare regime, which involves things like being really gentle with myself for a few days, restricting social media access, and doing comforting things.

So, those are some ideas for responding to attacks of emotional distress. Thoughts and suggestions are very welcome.

Three Essays about the Power of Stories to Save Lives

I’m increasingly interested in how children and young people use stories to create safe places during times of trauma. Here are three powerful perspectives.

Living through death with Harry Potter

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Batwoman saved my life

Extra life: how I was saved by video games

Ending Therapy

I’ve decided to bring three years of therapy to a close by the end of August. This is difficult because my therapist doesn’t really agree with the decision. She thinks we should continue and explore some of the more painful issues that I’ve largely avoided bringing into the room. She says she’s concerned that I may be “abandoning myself” by stopping therapy right now.

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Feeling better with butterflies

It’s been a stressful week and I was already feeling fragile when I woke up this morning. Then I went and logged into twitter, saw stuff that made me feel even worse and, by 8.00am, I was in tears #selfcarefail.

Determined not to spend my day off crying, I decided to go out and buy a new kettle because the old one no longer makes good tea. I walked to the supermarket and got the kettle, but I was still crying.

Luckily, we live close to an old cemetery which is also a lovely nature reserve. If there’s one thing that can usually improve my mood, it’s looking for wildlife. This is probably because it puts me back in touch with the happiest times in my childhood. It worked and I came home feeling much better.

Here are a few (not very good) photos from my nature walk.

Common Blue butterfly

So beautiful and even bluer in real life.

Image shows a British common blue butterfly sunning its wings while sitting on some dry grass. The butterfly's wings are bright blue with white edging.

Speckled Wood

Image shows a speckled wood butterfly sunning itself on a green leaf in a leafy hedgerow. It is a brown butterfly with pale yellow spots on its wings.

Gatekeeper

There were lots of these guys fluttering around, but they were very difficult to photograph. This was as close as I could get.

Image shows a gatekeeper butterfly sunning itself on a plant with yellow flowers. The butterfly is a bit distant from the camera but you can see it's orange and brown wings and brown spots on the tips.

I also saw plenty of meadow browns, large and small whites and one small skipper.

Cinnabar moth caterpillars 

There were plenty of cinnabar moth caterpillars enjoying the rag wort plants in the cemetery.

Image is a close-up of several cinnabar moth caterpillars feeding on ragwort. The caterpillars have yellow and black stripes around their bodies.

 

Grieving and Re-grieving

I’m trying to deal with a lot of unprocessed grief at the moment and wanted to share a couple of things that I’ve found helpful.

This little video, Why grief is not something you have to get over offers a perspective that really makes sense to me. The counsellor in the video talks about how the therapeutic model for working with grief is shifting, from seeing grief as something that gets less over time, to something that’s always there, but that other aspects of your life can grow around. So, while the grief doesn’t go away, it isn’t so all-consuming. But you can dip back into it at certain times, which brings me to the next point.

@hallygrace posted a long thread on twitter about the concept of re-grieving. Hallygrace makes the point that grief can be a life-long emotional process and you are likely to experience it again and again, especially at significant moments (anniversaries, life milestones etc). Here’s the tough bit, you have to re-process it every time. It’ not a good idea to repress the feelings or shame yourself for having them.

Eating disorders & what I learned from my “skinny clothes”

I just took a big step in eating disorder recovery and got rid of the last of my “skinny clothes”. I’ve only ever been able to fit into these clothes during the times when I’ve been doing something extreme to reduce my weight. They’ve been lurking in my wardrobe for years, taunting me, whispering, “What a failure you are. If you only worked a bit harder, you could get into us again”.  “Skinny clothes” is a euphemism really, it would be more honest to just call them my “eating disorder clothes”.

About a year ago I was getting really tired of the morning panic attacks and decided to dispose of all the clothes that were making me feel miserable about my body. I began the process of removing them, starting by bagging up the worst offenders and putting them out of sight for a few weeks, and then taking them to a charity shop when I felt ready.

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