Make your senses happy

There are certain things that I always find comforting regardless of my mental state. They might conjure memories or just be inexplicably reassuring.

When having a panic attack they suggest focusing on one thing for each sense to bring you back. One thing you see, one you hear, one you smell, one you feel and one you taste.

Can the same use of senses lift us up when we are depressed?

Touch

For as long as even my parents can remember I have had a strong attachment to satin ribbons, the softer and silkier the better. Rubbing satin is very calming to me and as I child I collected anything I found that had that satin texture. I would suck my thumb and rub the “silky” to feel calm. I’ve long given up the thumb sucking, but even now I keep a few of the softest ribbons I collected in a draw. Just rubbing one between my thumb and forefinger gives me a feeling of peace.

Sound

The opening song to the little known film Cats Don’t Dance (it’s really hard to find but so worth seeing) is my go to “cheer up” sound. It’s an upbeat song and singing along to it always gives me a feeling that I can take on the world

Smell

This one was harder to think of, but the smell that comes to mind when I think of a happy feeling is hay. Specifically the warm hay smell of a guinea pig. We had many guinea pigs growing up, and although I was never as attached to them as some of our other pets, their warm hay smell is very comforting. Walking around a pet store, I always take a deep breath when I get to the rabbit/guinea pig area. That mix of hay, sawdust and animal just smells like happiness some how.

Sight

I’m doing these easiest to hardest and it’s a toss up between the final two. My initial answer was Bill Wurtz history of the entire world, I guess. A YouTube video that I have watched countless times to distract me, but I think that’s more the sing song nature of it (especially as I’m singing “the Cambrian explosion” to myself as I type) so I’m not going to count it as sight.

Instead I’m going to say two screen shots I’ve saved on my phone. I’ve had them years so I don’t know where they originate (sorry to original posters for not giving credit). They both cheer me up in different ways. The first gives me a feeling of inner strength, and the second just makes me smile.

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I highly recommend saving little things like these on your phone for when you need a little pick me up.

Taste

I have an unhealthy relationship with food so this takes the cake (sorry couldn’t resist) for being the toughest to think of. What food would I always be happy to eat? I love chocolate, but it doesn’t make me happy per se.

I actually took a few days to think about it and the constant in my life, the thing that can make me eat things I hate – is ketchup. Good old tomato sauce. So although a little bit of it won’t relax me, it does give me the power to do things I can’t otherwise. That knowledge makes me happy in a different way to the others, but it is happiness.

What makes your senses happy?

It’s actually been interesting to compare how I feel with others. I asked my husband about his 5 choices and he had different ways of thinking. His touch was a good hug, and his sound was my laugh. I realised that I hadn’t included people anywhere in mine!

So what are your 5 choices? Can you use them to lift you up when you are down?

A very spoonie holiday

I’ve talked in my last two posts about my recent setbacks, but I’ve yet to address why I’ve been struggling a bit more. As someone with CFS routine is hugely important to me, it helps me pace and keep my activities at an even level. Breaking that routine can cause me a lot of chaos.

At the start of August I went on holiday, the week before I hit a new personal best for time in the office and felt like the week away was much deserved. What I underestimated was how hard going abroad for a week would be. Not just the travel, but the holiday itself. So I’m going to try and think about the individual issues and how my future self could mitigate at least some of the struggles.

Travel

The first and most obvious hurdle was getting to the Italian villa where our family was staying. This meant a 4am start to get to the airport, although evidently not early enough as it ended up being a bit of a rush once we got there. I like to be early for any travel, flights especially. Feeling rushed was a major trigger and before we even got to the plane I was experiencing pain and fatigue from the stress. I couldn’t even have a much needed plane nap as the pain kept me uncomfortable and awake. Once we got to Italy the weather was hot and dry, luckily that wasn’t super different to the hot and humid weather back home, as drastic temperature changes always mess with me. We picked up the hire car and I made sure I wasn’t involved in navigating so I could relax in the back. The rest of the journey was uneventful, but it was a long day.

For the return journey I used the lessons I’d learnt and insisted we leave with plenty of time to get to the airport early. We got a bit lost, so I was especially glad of the extra time! I was still unnecessarily anxious to get through security and sat by the gate, but once there I could alternate between resting and stretching my legs, so once we were on the plane I was relaxed enough to nap. It was still a long day, but I noticed a huge difference in how I felt at the end of it.

So tips?

  1. Give yourself plenty of time to do things at your pace
  2. Let others be in charge of any extra thinking if you can
  3. Accept that it will be a big day and prepare for that

On Holiday

My favourite holiday pastime has always been swimming. Now that I have CFS my fitness level is much lower, and even a small amount of swimming can tire me out. So I experimented with swimming over the first two days and found that actually it isn’t so much the swimming I enjoy, but the experience of being in the water. This made things much easier as I could spend my time floating or sitting on the steps into the pool. I got to have my relaxing pool time without exhausting myself.

Day trips are always going to be a tough one for me, so I only joined the family on one during the week. I warned them in advance that if they wanted me to come along we wouldn’t be out for so long as I’d get tired. They agreed and planned that we could walk through the town we were visiting, and there was a car park at both ends, so they could fetch the car and pick me up from the one we finished at. The reality was that it was a very hilly town, we walked downhill and there was no way I’d make it back up – so the car park plan was handy. That said in the actual moment, they were reluctant to leave so soon, and realised all the restaurants were back at the top of the hill. I felt pressured to not ruin their day and attempt to climb back up the hill. Luckily my husband is very supportive and put his foot down, stopping me from pandering to the group. In the end they left us at a cafe by the car park for an hour whilst they did extra bits and we stopped for lunch on the drive back. Everyone got what they wanted from the day, and I didn’t have to do more than I could manage.

Tips?

  1. Find low impact ways to enjoy your holiday activities
  2. Discuss plans in advance of day trips to manage expectations
  3. Don’t put others’ enjoyment before your health
  4. Be ready to sit in cafes and rest (bring a book or have a buddy to chat to)

The Aftermath

The hardest part of the holiday wasn’t until we returned. Routine is a key part of my energy management and I’d been out of it for 8 days. When I tried to go back to my routine on Monday I found it very tough, I couldn’t make it the whole way to the office. By Wednesday I’d had enough and despite bad leg pain warning me I needed rest, I forced myself into work. Within minutes I was overwhelmed and had to leave. That foolishness caused me to have a bad flare up and not be in work for another week and half!

My biggest tip!

  1. Accept that the holiday will break your routine and it will take you a while to get back into things. Don’t push yourself as that will not help! Take it at your body’s pace and be patient!

It’s not just you

Recently mental health has had a lot of attention and it’s become much more acceptable to talk about the issues we all face.

Finding out it’s not just you can be one of the most reassuring experiences on the road to recovery. Whether that’s learning your diagnosis so you know you aren’t imagining it, or talking to someone with a similar experience, knowing that you aren’t the only one in the world with these issues can mean a lot.

When you are experiencing anxiety or depression it can feel incredibly isolating. You are trying to fight against it to keep functioning, but it can be like quicksand, the more you struggle the quicker you sink.

By talking to others with similar experiences you get the reassurance that there is hope, and it’s a great way to find out tips and tricks that others have found to pull themselves out of the mire.

To do that though we have to be brave and take the first step. Admitting to ourselves that we are not okay. That’s often against everything we’ve learnt, but it isn’t weakness to ask for help. Talking about my experiences openly I’ve often had people say they admire that I can do so. The majority of people will respect you for facing your demons, it’s something they probably struggle with themselves.

So start those conversations. Even if to begin with it’s with strangers online anonymously. Find a community that has shared experiences and support each other to get better. We are stronger together!

If you aren’t ready to talk about your issues, start listening. I’ve recently been enjoying  why am i sad? – a podcast where four people talk about their issues and each fortnight set a goal to try. They don’t always meet that goal, but that makes it even more relatable. I find it heartening to listen to other people discuss how they aren’t perfect, it’s a human connection and their suggestions for self improvement can be inspiring too.

No matter what you decide to do going forward – Remember you aren’t alone!