A new start, a new blog

Helloooo!

Wow, it’s been a long time since I wrote anything on here!

 

For those of you that have followed me for a while, you will know (although you may not remember as it was yonks ago), that I decided to take a step back from this blog and instead I wanted to shift my focus on to my YouTube channel around a year ago now. This wasn’t anything personal – just a need to focus on something else for a change (not mental health), and also to try a new medium.

That’s gone really well for me, honestly. My channel is doing really well and I really enjoy making videos. Seeing something creative come together is amazing, and I’m finally starting to find my niche I think. I also love that a few of you watch me over there too, I do notice you and I do appreciate you.

However, part of me misses writing. There’s something about writing that can’t be replaced by anything else. I miss you guys and I miss the encouraging words I was once given by some truly devoted people to this blog. I miss just laying my thoughts out there without the need to physically say them out loud in a video, because sometimes saying things out loud is too damn scary.

This blog isn’t right for me anymore, that’s just fact. I’ve outgrown it, I’m not excited by it, and By Lauren Hayley is no more. That person is no longer on my radar. By Lauren Hayley is me, but an old me. I will continue to keep this blog and reflect on my old posts occasionally, but this will (most likely) be the last post that I write here – which is kinda sad, but it feels right.

So to fulfill that writing desire, I have decided to begin a new blog – a new chapter – and that’s really the point of this post: to invite you over there too. www.laurensowter.com won’t just focus on mental health (I should make that clear), but it will occasionally, as it’s still a massive part of my life. I still have a LONG way to go in terms of my anxiety, which I talk about a little bit in my most recent post.

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To make matters confusing, my blog isn’t on wordpress which means you can’t follow me in the usual way, however by signing up to Bloglovin’ you can follow me there (by the way, it’s totally useful for your blog to do so regardless – it opens up a whole new audience for you).

I hope to see some of you there and occasionally I hope to have our same old discussions about our temperamental brains. This blog has been so good to me and a part of me does miss it, but growth and change is good and I’m excited for the new chapter.

I’ll leave alllll my contact details below so that we don’t lose touch, and that’s me done.

Goodbye WordPress, and all 2,645 of you that have made WordPress brilliant!

love lauren x

YouTube: www.youtube.com/lozhayley 
Blog: www.laurensowter.com
Bloglovin’ Profile: www.bloglovin.com/laurensowter

Twitter: www.twitter.com/laurensowter
Instagram: www.instagram.com/laurensowter
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/laurensowteryoutube

Email: laurensowter@gmail.com

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SMALL STEPS ARE MASSIVE

Agoraphobia is undoubtedly one of the most misunderstood anxiety disorders; with many people assuming it simply means ‘being afraid to leave the house’. However, agoraphobia can be better defined as an intense fear of being in a situation where an escape is not easy. For me, this has included using cash machines because of the length of time you’re stuck waiting for your money and can’t leave; it has included being in elevators, cars, trains, cinemas, using pedestrian crossings; not being able to stand still because of the need to keep running; being unable to cross the road because there’s too much traffic, and a million other small and complex things that would take me way too long to list; but equally impacted my life beyond belief. The result of all of these things was what left me housebound. It wasn’t that the outside world was a scary place to me, it was that my disorder had gradually dictated all the things that I couldn’t escape from and the only option I had left was to remain inside. Leaving the house for the first time isn’t the end of agoraphobia, it’s merely the start, the first step; because agoraphobia is all of those things. Agoraphobia is being too scared to cross a bridge and it’s feeling like you’re going to faint when you’re waiting in a queue. Agoraphobia is being feeling suffocated when crammed in a small room and feeling lost and vulnerable in an open space. Agoraphobia is most definitely not simply ‘being afraid to leave the house’. But by adding together each small step, things can and do get better. Because small steps are massive.

 

Progress

I have been fairly quiet lately on my blog so I thought it was time for a long-overdue update. I’ve been super busy with starting up my YouTube channel, trying to learn new coping mechanisms and pushing myself to get better.

For those of you that frequently read my blog, you will know that the last month has been particularly difficult for me. I’ve had agoraphobia for over a year now, but this last month has left me virtually housebound; doing anything or going anywhere has been pretty much impossible.

This has also left me incredibly emotional. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this sad all of the time. The smallest thing can happen or be said and I burst into tears. It’s like I’m walking around (clearly not far!) with frustration, anger and sadness in me at all times, waiting to burst out.

I wake up feeling dread every morning and I cry myself to sleep every night. I snap, I get mad and I cry; all day every day, just wondering around my small first floor flat.

So on Saturday, I lay there in my bed crying at four in the afternoon. I lay there feeling as I always do right now – disappointed and annoyed that my life has come to this. It had just occurred to me that my upcoming trip to my hometown next month to see my friends and family was in jeopardy. If I can’t make it to the end of the street how can I survive a four-hour car journey home?

And then, something just snapped. Or clicked. Or a combination of both. I quickly downloaded a meditation app on my phone, put in my headphones, and went out; in the middle of a thunder-storm.

I felt nervous and there were points where I felt beyond uncomfortable, but not once in the forty minutes I walked did I have a panic attack. Not once did it all become too much that I had to go home.

Instead, for the first time in around a month, I walked without feeling like I was going to pass out, without feeling like I couldn’t breathe or my heart was going to burst through my chest. I just walked, like a normal person.

And again today I did the same thing. The only time I nervously rushed was in Sainsburys, and by doing that it just made me drop my purse and all my coins across the shop floor making me stay in there even longer. But ultimately I was fine.

These things may not seem like massive deals to most people. Walking down the street isn’t an achievement to the majority of us. And I still have a LONG way to go, but regardless of all that, I feel like I’m turning a corner, so that’s something to be proud of.

I feel a little bit of hope for the first time in ages. I feel like maybe getting over this is possible after all. As for the sadness, that’s still there. My brain’s just had enough I guess. But I do also think that’s what’s driving and pushing me forward, and I do have a little help from some extra serotonin around my neck to cheer me up.

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Telling your mum you’re not well

As my mum has just created her very own blog over at Proud Mumma Bear, I thought I would write a post which I’ve been meaning to do for some time: how to tell your mum, dad, brother, sister, other half, friend – anyone – that you’re not well.

I get so many comments, tweets and emails discussing how open I am with my mum about all the issues that I have. I get messages like ‘How do you do it?‘ and ‘I wish I could be that open‘ all the time.

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I haven’t always been that way, but I love that I am now. I had a lot of problems as a teenager and if I could disguise them and ‘put on a brave face’, that’s what I did. I felt like I was being silly and I thought it was easier to just get on with it on my own.

These days of course I don’t really have a choice but to tell her about my agoraphobia, because it’s hard to fake leaving the house when I spend a weekend with her, but I do  tell her the rest as well. I tell her about the highs, the lows, the risks I’ve taken and then regretted, and all the other messy bits to my mental health, or lack there of it. I do this because for me, it’s nice to have someone unconditionally on my side.

But parents seem to be the one limitation that a lot of you have when it comes to sharing your own mental health experiences. So often I hear bloggers say that they have to remain anonymous because the fear of their parents seeing what they’ve written is too much, and even those that do have faces are often anxious at the idea of mum or dad discovering their writing.

I’m not here to say whether or not that’s right or wrong. If keeping your problems away from some of the people you love – for their sake or yours – is the best thing to do, then carry on. You know yourself and what is good for you better than anyone else. I also appreciate that not everyone’s mum is like my mum, and some people feel misunderstood and stigmatised in their own homes, making it much harder to be open.

Additionally on the flip side, it can also be damaging towards the parent. I know that my mum loses sleep over me and my problems constantly. She’s always stressed and worried because she wants me to be as happy and healthy as humanly possible, and none of us want to be a ‘burden’, which is another reason we often downplay our troubles.

But what I will say is that if you have a strong desire to tell someone what’s going on in your life – do it and just trust that they care about you as much you do them.

And this doesn’t mean you have to go into vast detail if you don’t want to. I don’t necessarily explain how bad some situations are to my mum. I might say ‘I’m feeling depressed at the moment‘, but that doesn’t mean I have to go into anymore detail than that. What it does mean though, is that I know she’s there, ready to come and rescue me if I need her.

If you want to tell somebody, find a way no matter how hard that is. There is always something you can do to make it easier for you; you just have to figure out what it is.

For me, when I’m sad or scared I find it incredibly hard to speak. When I’m face to face with someone my mind goes completely blank and no words come out. So whenever it has come to telling my mum something important in the past, I have left her a note or a letter.

Sometimes these have been rather amusing in hindsight, like telling her that my boyfriend when I was fifteen had a three-year old child, or that the boyfriend before that was in a youth offenders prison, but I have also told her about family abuse and deep depressions I’ve suffered through letters.

It may not work for everyone, but it works for us.

I love how open we are. It makes my life so much easier to be able to share with my mum. And sure, sometimes I feel guilty because I know it upsets her, but I know she’d be more upset if she knew I didn’t feel like I could come to her.

If you need someone to share your battle with, then take the first step and make it happen!

Happy 1st Birthday ByLaurenHayley & Day 1 for ProudMummaBear

Today my blog is one year old which definitely calls for a celebration in my mind!

I never thought I’d fall in love with blogging in the way that I have.

I never thought a single person would be interested in anything I have to say.

But instead, one year on, I’ve had 7,315 likes on my posts, I’ve had 30,918 visitors check out my blog, and I have 2,613 loyal followers. (I’ve literally just looked up those figures and I’m shocked – thank you, guys!)

I’ve also had thousands of beyond amazing comments from some incredible people.

I’ve helped people and I’ve been helped by people.

This blog has given me somewhere to be myself and express my feelings, it’s given me friends, advice and the opportunity to work with some fantastic organisations to improve mental health services.

It’s given me more than you could possibly imagine, and for that I thank every single one of you, and make Nutella cake to celebrate!

Here’s to the next year, and the next cake!

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On another note, today is a very special day for my mum too when it comes to blogging; as today she wrote her first blog post! Go check her out and give her a follow for more mental health talk and a super awesome person – ProudMummaBear

‘No, nothing was wrong with my food. Something was wrong with me.’

Sometimes when I feel as though everything’s getting too much, I like to remind myself of how far I’ve come in my past.

I mean the big achievements. The big things that I’ve overcome already in my life.

The things that at the time felt impossible.The things that I was sure would kill me, but that I eventually wiped out myself before they had the chance.

Anxiety feels impossible to manage all the bloody time and sometimes (a lot of the time!) any hope I have to overcome it drains from me so quickly. I just want to give up and admit that this is it, this is my life.

But strangely, I’m in a unique position – and advantaged in some ways – because I’ve overcome another anxiety disorder already in my life.

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In the summer of 2009, I was seventeen and quickly becoming incredibly ill.

Out of absolutely nowhere, I’d developed a fear of choking.

By the time I turned eighteen four months later, I was just a skeleton of the person I was before. I dropped a couple of stone in weight and developed an eating disorder because my anxiety prevented me from eating anything solid.

I was so scared every single day to eat anything. I remember a friend of mine trying to force a biscuit down me because I hadn’t eaten anything for a long time, but I couldn’t do it.

Everywhere I went I got comments on how ill I looked making me feel even more anxious and self-conscious about my problem. Even from waiters in restaurants that would take away my food and say something along the lines of ‘was something wrong with your food?’ or ‘maybe a children’s portion for you next time, hey!’.

Everyone and everything was drawing attention to it.

My brain stopped functioning and it affected my ability to drive my car safely. I’d completely forget how to break and my reactions were slow.

My BMI was 15.2 and at 5 ft 7 I looked like I could fall over at any moment. My skin looked pale and my cheek bones were harsh. My body looked like that of a young girl, with every curve disappearing.

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I really thought this was my life forever. I thought I was destined to live in fear and bad health until it inevitably sometime soon would take my life.

But then, I packed up my bags in the February and moved to Canada…

I didn’t really know why I was going or what to expect. I went to live with family that I didn’t even know. But it was the best thing I ever did.

From almost the minute I landed in Toronto my big Greek family were trying to fatten me up.

I left Canada six months later after having gained two and a half stone, and I’ve never felt that intense anxiety about eating again.

It’s still there under the surface. When I order food in restaurants I analyse the menu for what I consider a threat, and my stomach has never returned to the size it once was. I eat my food incredibly slowly now, and I still get self-conscious in restaurants when I don’t finish my food; placing a napkin over my plate to avoid the comments.

But other than that, I’m fine. I eat a normal amount every day and have no real issues with food or anxiety relating to it.

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I overcame it. I overcame something that seemed impossible and was taking my life away from me.

And that’s amazing!

Occasionally it’s nice to remind myself of that and keep moving forward. It’s good to recognise that my agoraphobia really doesn’t stand a chance against me.

I’m here!

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I know yesterday I said I was confident that I was going to make it into work today, but this morning I definitely was not. Confident is probably the most fitting antonym I could have used.

When I woke up I instantly felt dread, and when I left the house I said ‘see you a minute’ to my boyfriend.

But here I am. I’ve been here for forty minutes and I still don’t exactly feel comfortable, but I am here.

I made it.

Guest Post by Brendan Farrell – The First Step is Not The Hardest

I’ve decided recently to feature some guests here on my blog to showcase some other people’s troubles with mental health. Here we have Brendan Farrell who talks about his journey with anxiety and depression, and how running has helped rid him of his demons. Please check out his blog by clicking here.

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There are so many motivational quotes over the years that compare achieving goals to some sort of uphill task, a mountain or a series of steps. While this comparison works for some people to a large extent, my experience with anxiety and depression can somewhat be the opposite of this. Why? Because that top step is where I sat, in the middle of the night, dozens of times because I couldn’t sleep. I was deeply depressed. That is the hardest point. The loneliness is overwhelming. Every house noise and creek comes with huge hope that it’s someone getting up to help. It never was. Who gets up at half 3 in the morning? Other days those steps would be climbed immediately after work. This was for the sole purpose of lying on the bed not to be around anyone, feeling absolutely numb. So that top step didn’t represent anything positive.

It was the bottom step that did. That bottom step means you’re willing to be around people. It means you can get out and be with the world. Not alone. It shows courage, passion and a desire to give it everything to get through it. And you will.

My name is Brendan Farrell. I’m 31 and from Templeogue in Dublin. I have been working in finance since 2006. It’s deadline, accuracy, bureaucracy and fear driven and the reason I suffered from anxiety and depression. I initially loved working full-time and earning a salary. At 22 there was a large element of innocence and naivety which wasn’t recognised at the time. Getting the job in the first place meant a lot. How times have changed. After 2 years there, some friends were spending a year in Australia (a very common thing for an Irish person in their 20’s). They had been gone a few months when things started to become very stressful in the job. At this point, physical fitness was very low. I weighed 15 stone and running for the bus was an issue (I’ll get back to this later. Turns out these are quite important points).

This started to affect my sleep and confidence in the ability to do my job. It clouded my brain completely. I began to get extremely nervous at the thought of going in, being around all those people, not being able to understand the work and completely obsessed with getting a good sleep. This carried on until I decided to pack it in and join my friends in Australia. I spent 6 of the best months of my life there. We got a point where there was a choice between going to New Zealand or going home. The budget was another issue so returning home was the path chosen.

A month after returning I was to start work again in the same office. I knew deep down that it didn’t sit right. The night before I started, the tears rolled down my face from the pure nerves. Things kicked off. Like a tonne of bricks. Therapists, tablets, hypnotherapy, coming off anti-depressants cold turkey and having crippling panic attacks, loneliness and silence. A long course of CBT chipped away at the negativity and the clouds slowly but surely began to clear. I won’t dwell too much on the CBT because it wasn’t the only factor in my recovery.

At this time, another tonne of bricks hit me. Except it was one of the most positive of my life. I trained for and completed a 5 mile charity run. I got a huge sense of satisfaction from it. I got hooked. The feeling of having a clear head was hugely relaxing. There’s a science behind it. Exercise releases endorphins which reduce stress. It’s that simple. Plus with physical fitness comes mental fitness. To tell you the truth, you wouldn’t believe the impact it can have. Some days when I get pissed off, I go running. It feels like taking on whatever is pissing me off and smashing it to pieces. It’s amazing.

So I took up a spinning class for a few months. This is a tough form of exercise but so effective. I went into it with still a low level of fitness. I didn’t care. What’s the point in thinking like that? Everyone knows there is a reason you’re there. People often say to me, “Oh I won’t be able to keep up”, or “I’d be petrified of how I’d look”. Who cares? What’s gonna happen if you can’t keep up? Nothing. You went. You feel great and you’ll do it again because you’ve got the heart for it. Once you see the fitness levels increase, that’s my nicotine. I lost 3 stone doing it.

I have also found a huge comradery in running. The people are the best part. The support from onlookers as you plough through the streets of a town or city is enormous. There is nothing but positivity in races, online groups, running clubs. I just wanted to be involved. Last September I ran my first marathon. It meant so much that I remember the date and my race time to the second. I erupted into tears but I thought about the first time I did that in this whole process. The night before I started work after Australia.

There are many other things I have achieved but I would hate for this to be a self obsessive article. That’s not me. I simply want to highlight the importance of physical fitness in mental wellbeing. I want to help. Somebody asked me recently what my ideal job would be if money was no issue at all? I immediately said it would be owner of an athletics club. Imagine the amount of people you could help. That’s the dream.

Right now I don’t have depression. I don’t see myself ever having it again. But I will never forget it. It made me the person I am today. Strong, physically fit and happy. I love people and being with my family and friends. After reading this, some people might think why am I still working in that office today? The truth is that I won’t be for much longer. I’m changing careers. I’ve been trying to change jobs for a few weeks now. It’s long, tedious and there are days that it gets the better of me. It still makes me nervous but I have running. I have cycling. I have boot camp. If I didn’t have them, things would be a lot different.

So what is my actual message here? Don’t ever EVER be afraid of that bottom step. Don’t look up and say, “look how much I have to do”. Always look straight ahead, grit your teeth and do it. Achieve something. Absolutely anything. Run a mile. Join a gym. Prepare and have a healthy meal. After that ALWAYS look back and smile at what you have done. If you did that, then why can’t you do everything else?

Exactly. There is no reason and there never will be.

Thank you so much for reading.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any advice.

Like a child

It’s so strange isn’t it, how anxiety can make you feel like a little girl again with the flick of a switch.

As most of you know, my mum has been with me this weekend. She came to visit on Friday and left just this morning.

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Just a random photo of mum, my brother and I – because I’m feeling the family love today.

It’s fair to say that I haven’t had an easy weekend whilst she’s been here. I’ve been in a constant state of nervousness that’s made me randomly panic throughout. I’ve probably had ten panic attacks in four days. I’ve not gone much further than the end of my street or really done anything. I’ve panicked inside and I’ve panicked outside.

It’s generally just been a bit shitty. Of course other than the fact that I’ve had my lovely mum with me.

So today, when it came to her leaving, I reverted back to being a child. I got scared and upset, and was hyperventilating in tears for the last half an hour of her being here, all whilst being tucked up in bed watching Beauty and the Beast trying to calm down.

She did offer to stay until my boyfriend gets home off holiday tonight, but it’s ridiculous. She had a train to catch and it’s not like I can now be scared of being without my mum – she lives four hours away and I’m a 23-year-old woman!

So she left, and four hours later I am still here and I am OK.

But it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? I’ll never be too old to need my mumma. She’s the best.