If someone had told me five years ago all the things I would go through, I would have given up there and then. That's why psychics scare me a little. Anyway, I did get through it all - and continue to do so.
If anything, I've become quite a calm and positive person. Sometimes people comment on it, and then I realise just how far I've come. I used to worry about things all the time and be generally very anxious.
I think going through those things has changed me a lot. When you feel low for far too long, you re-evaluate your way of thinking.When your body fails you on a day to day basis, you end up stopping sweating the small stuff.
Still, I think reading a lot about positive thinking definitely helped me get there. Susan Jeffers' Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway was the biggest help. The main lesson I took away from it was that your life experience is shaped more by your response to what happens, than it is about what actually happens.
Also that if you pin everything on one area of your life, if that goes wrong everything's going to seem awful. Keeping a structured daily diary that helped me realise what I was doing towards different areas of my life such as creativity, work, friends, health etc - made me realise just how full my life was. Within that I also kept a daily gratitude list, alongside a list of achievements/things I'd done that scared me (in a good way). I only kept that going for a couple of months - but the mindset seemed to stay with me.
Anyway, here's my list of things you can do to help you feel a little happier even, and especially, when things aren't great.
Knowing that "this too will pass"
Being a positive person doesn't mean you don't feel pain or that you learn to suppress it - that wouldn't be healthy or helpful. It's more about knowing that while you may feel terrible, that feeling will pass. It genuinely helps.
The end of last week I was very emotional after having my first syncopal episode (passing out) in four months. It was one of my worst ones overall and it also meant a setback with a goal of mine - as apparently you have to go six months without blacking out to learn to drive, if you don't get any warning*. So, back to square one.
I cried and cried and felt awful, but I knew that I could only feel like that for a few days, and I did. I still felt awful but being aware of the inevitably temporary nature of that kind of pain was helpful. A few years ago that would have no doubt led my mood to spiral.
Please note - if you're suffering from depression, these things alone won't help. Depression clouds your thinking to the point of irrationality, and your pain will seem permanent. Please try to know it's not. Talk to someone you trust and also to a doctor. (To read more about my experience with depression, click here).
Clocking your inner monologue
I used to suffer with bad anxiety and self-esteem issues when I was younger. A lot of that stemmed from just not feeling good enough. So, if something went wrong, or even if not - I'd have thoughts of inadequacy, wanting to give up etc. I'd then feel overwhelmed and the whole situation would seem a lot worse than it really was.
Now and then, especially when hormonal, I still get those thoughts. The difference is I notice them - and know they're just thoughts. I have this perspective now that feelings and thoughts aren't the same - and thoughts aren't necessarily true.
I realise when I'm not being very nice to myself and am then able to turn it around, thinking and knowing that I am good enough, that people aren't judging me (or so what if they are - they don't know the whole story) - or whatever the case may be.
Counting your blessings
One of the things that helped me the most is learning to reflect on my life, and to feel gratitude. Even on my worst days, I still know and feel how lucky I am to have the lovely family, job and general life that I do. I feel blessed.
I think that really is a learned behaviour. Keeping that diary and making that gratitude list everyday made it something that I then came to do naturally.
Learning to say no
One of my favourite moments in the sitcom Friends is when someone invites Phoebe somewhere and she says "Sorry I would, but I don't want to." I love it.
While that may be a tad rude, it is a lovely example of a guilt-free way of saying no. So often people do things because they feel pressured to: they can't think of a good enough excuse not to, so they say yes.
While I'm an advocate of being a "yes person" in terms of opportunities and living life to the full - being able to say no, and not feeling terrible about it, is also hugely important.
Asking for and accepting help
This applies to living with my chronic illness POTS but also life in general. I used to be so stubborn - insisting I was fine then crumbling when alone. Now, if I need to talk to someone - I do. If I need practical help, I ask for it. That took time as it felt embarrassing but it's necessary and the people that care are happy to help and to listen.
Needing help doesn't imply a weakness of character - it implies life is difficult, which it is. Being honest about how you're feeling lets the people that care about you in. It also helps to talk about it - even if there's no solution, just to rant or cry about something alleviates some of the struggle. If you knew a friend was suffering you'd want to help, so try to view it that way.
Being kind to yourself
There's cross-over from clocking your inner monologue with this one but it's also about remembering to do the things you enjoy - and not feeling bad about taking time just for you. It sounds simple but it's too easily forgotten.
So if I'm in a slump, mentally or physically, rather than pushing myself to keep going (which I'm often a bit guilty of) - it's sometimes a case of making a choice, which last weekend was to sit in bed with hot drinks and good food and watch a heck lot of America's Next Top Model. It was good and it was what I needed.
It's so easy to look at someone's life and get jealous. Don't. You never know what's truly going on and everyone's fighting their own battle.
You don't have someone else's life - you have yours. As soon as you start comparing, you're not appreciating your own unique life. So try to focus on the good people and things within it. Make a list if it helps, a ridiculously long one that will hopefully bring you back to a place of rationality and gratitude.
Equally, I sometimes look at old photos and get jealous of the young, "care-free" me. That's silly. I definitely wouldn't want to be in a club at 1am on a Friday night anymore. The things that I did before getting ill wouldn't necessarily be fun now, even without this illness - because time has moved on.
Also, I definitely wasn't carefree. The time I have most photos of, when I had the most nights and days out, they weren't when I was happy. I was so full of anxiety, and now I'm not. I'm settled and comfortable in myself. I also have a job I love, whereas I never really knew where my life was going - and even when I did, there was this fear of not getting a job. Again, it's all about awareness and gratitude.
I'll end on a quote that always helps me keep going - even when I'm exhausted and feel the strain of having "kept going" time and time again:
"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do - you have to keep moving forward."
Martin Luther King
*Edit - re-driving: so I was told by a nurse at that time that you had to go 6 months without. Having spoken to my specialist he seemed confident I could learn to drive as I've only passed out a few times sitting down and that was a few years ago now. Just didn't want anyone to freak out having read that!