On shame.

Roy Lichtensteins’s Drowning Girl.

 I’ve been wanting to write a blog post on shame for a while now. But, funnily enough, I felt too ashamed to. The reason it’s so difficult for me to write about it is because it requires me to be brutally honest about my mental health in the last 5 years.  It requires me to almost be as sincere as how I write in my diary, which scares the shit out of me. Because I don’t think there is any point sugar coating how difficult it is to come out of depression, shame, anxiety.. to overcome set beliefs that have been entrenched for so many years. This isn’t a blog post to say ‘here’s 5 things you can do to combat shame! Just do them and you’ll live an amazing life, just like me!’ . No, this is a blog post to recognise the complexities between the thoughts in our heads, our biological responses and how difficult it can be to shift our perspective on ourselves and the world around us.  What I can say is  that talking honestly and openly about shame is the beginning to overcoming it. Because shame is in its very nature wants to make you hide, wants to distinguish your own pain as different from that of everyone around you, wants to make you a sore thumb even when you are amongst a crowd of other sore thumbs. 

First of all, a nice definition of shame, as described by sociologist Brene Brown (I urge everyone to check her youtube videos and also her podcast with Russell Brand.. so many wisdom gems). Shame is the ‘intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging- something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection’. Shame creates feelings of fear, blame and disconnect. With this definition in mind, its not hard to see why we currently have such an epidemic of mental disorders, anxiety and addictions – all associated with the  effects of shame. 

In my own life, a  lot of the shame I have felt/continue to feel is rooted in ongoing health issues that I’ve had since I was 19. Over the years, I’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, endometriosis, hypothyroidism and IBS. Now, I know that all sounds rather horrific but a lot of these conditions have cross-over symptoms. Although things are not nearly as bad as they used to be, I still have days where I have no energy, nerve pain and migraines, particularly around my period. But at times, it has been utterly debilitating. When I was 20, there was a time where I couldn’t get out of bed, and I couldn’t walk for longer than 5 minutes without being in excruciating pain. This was accompanied by long, heavy bouts of depression, suicidal thoughts and crippling anxiety over my future. Having wanted to be an actress from a young age and go to drama school, I had to let go of this dream. My life changed radically. I could no longer perform, and the future I wanted disappeared, to be replaced with simply getting through the day without crying. I felt my whole identity change, I became the pain and the fatigue, and didn’t allow for them to be separate from me, to exist on a different plane to my character. I lost touch with a lot of friends, afraid of how I could explain what was happening to me when I had no idea myself. Through my shame, I isolated myself from those who loved me and those who would best understand me. I did this because I felt like an anomaly – I wasn’t able to live a ‘normal’ life of work, education, socialising -all these things that required energy that I just didn’t have. I deleted every social media app because it was too painful to see everyone else continuing with their lives (this was probably a very good thing to do, to be fair..). And worst of all, through these incredibly difficult times, I did nothing but blame myself. My inner monologue became a repetition of the following mantras:

‘It is your fault you are ill.’ ‘You’re never gonna be able to do the shit you want to do’, ‘don’t even try because you will fail’. Etc etc… you get the message. 

So, what are the things that have truly helped me?  Firstly, the  realisation that my inner monologue is not the truth. Even though it can really feel like it. When your body feels horrible and your mind also, its difficult to see how your inner monologue isn’t just reflecting the truth of your situation. But, I have come to realise that I am not a piece of shit. I can have a proper career, I can work, I can audition for drama schools again if I wish. I 100% know that my feelings of shame only helped the spiral of ill health, and that a lot of the time I was simply afraid of fear itself. It has taken me years to realise this, and I have to remind myself daily to not get sucked in to destructive thinking.  A very interesting book that i’ve just finished reading, Pyscho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, is pretty useful in understanding how our self-image either inhibits or guides us to what we really want (good health, a good job etc..). Our nervous systems can’t tell the difference between an imagined experience and a ‘real’ experience’. So if we constantly live in fear and shame, then our nervous system will replicate that biologically, hence the release of the stress hormone cortisol when there isn’t even a threat to our survival. And with that release of cortisol our mind tells us to be more afraid…a viscous cycle! 

I am also trying to be as honest and open to friends, family and strangers about my health, even though being vulnerable can be excruciating. But it gets easier with time, and after every conversation I have where I’m not flinching inside, I begin to realise there is nothing to fear about being so honest, because ultimately there is no shame in having depression or a medical condition. And the more I talk about it,the more I realise that everyone has/ know’s someone with mental health issues, and that the way forward is about shining a continual, heavy duty light on it. 

Because, to be honest I am sick of lurking in the shadows about my health. There have been so many situations where if I had just been honest about how my health affects me, my life would have been so much easier- in work, at home, with friends. I have committed myself to trying to be as open as I can, because what is the alternative? I have been shown, time and time again, that being ashamed keeps me stagnant, keeps me trapped in a mental image of myself that I know isn’t accurate, and is stopping the flow of my  natural zest for life which I know, deep down, is very much alive and kicking. 

And, of course, I’m not alone. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of adults have felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope.  60% of young adults are stressed about the urge to succeed. These statistics are horrible but hardly shocking. Whether its Brexit, the effects of social media or global warming, its difficult to block out the existential threats that clearly aren’t being addressed by our leaders and corporations. But, is this a time to make myself my own worse enemy? Because I’m not sure if I can handle hating on the whole Tory cabinet , Trump, and myself. It’s too draining. And I think one of these is gonna have to give.

5 essential oils for every mood

Whether you need a quick sleep aid or something to relieve pain in the bathtub, there is pretty much an essential oil for every ailment. Aromatherapy is an ‘alternative’ approach to medicine that is continually  being backed by scientific research and studies as being wholly effective in its claims. When you inhale essential oils, the molecules are carried by the the olfactory nerve cells in the nose and onto the olfactory system where the aroma is sent to your brain and lymbic system. It is here that the effects of the essential oil takes place, making you more relaxed, alert, or ready for sleep.

I try and use essential oils on a daily basis, either a few drops in the bath or a diffuser, or mixed into a carrier oil to rub on my skin.  Each oil always has more than one amazing health benefits, so this list below is in no way exhaustive. Here are a few of my favourites!

For the perfect pain relief…Black Pepper Essential Oil

Black pepper is one of those ingredients that you think wouldn’t work well outside of the kitchen, but it has actually been used medicinally in India for thousands of years. This essential oil is derived from the dried fruit of the pepper plant, where it is distilled from the berries. I love to use this oil in the bath when my limbs ache or if I have any menstrual cramps, as this oil has amazing anti- inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. It may not be as floral as neroli or ylang ylang, but paired with some Epsom Salts, it can make bath time a near-spa experience..

For the perfect sleep aid…Ylang Ylang essential oil

Lavender is usually a go-to for sleep aid, but if you get bored and want to switch it up, then Ylang Ylang is the perfect choice. This oil is extracted through steam distillation from the cananga tree, which is found in the rainforests of Indonesia and the Philippines. It has a wonderfully sweet and  floral aroma that has a way of making you feel like you’re in the tropics. Studies have shown that this oil has sedative properties that can help ease anxiety and stress before bedtime. I love to put a few drops in a diffuser an hour before I go to sleep.

For the perfect skin soother…Pine essential oil

This oil smells like those first few weeks of having a fresh Christmas tree in your living room. But not only does it smell amazing, it can do wonders for any skin ailments you may have. I have found that with a sensitive gut comes very sensitive skin, and I’m prone to eczema, psoriasis and acne breakouts. Mixing a few drops with a carrier oil like jojoba or castor oil can create a wonderful elixir to rub onto any skin ailments, as it has antimicrobial and antiviral properties.  

Pine

For the perfect stress reliever…try frankincense oil

This oil is probably my favourite, and there is good reason why it was gifted to baby Jesus. It has a unique woody, spicy and sweet aroma that can really take the edge of a stressful day or an anxious episode. I find that  putting a few drops on a diffuser and inhaling can create instant relief from tension headaches and accompanying symptoms of anxiety. This is one of the pricier oils, but a little goes a long way!

For the perfect pick-me-up….try Rosemary essential oil

If you feel sluggish in the mornings, then putting a few drops of Rosemary on your oil diffuser can do wonders to wake you up. Rosemary is a popular culinary herb found in the Mediterranean , and actually belongs to the mint family, along with basil and sage. Rosemary oil has been proven to cause an increase in acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter responsible for memory and learning. It also increases blood flow to the brain , making you feel much more alert. If you are having any sinus problems,or the beginnings of a cold, put a few drops in a saucepan of water and inhale for ten minutes, as this will help reduce any inflammation.

Rosemary in bloom

Whichever oil you choose, remember that a little goes a long way. Personally, I think with essential oils it is better to go for quality over quantity, as you will only need half the amount of a good quality essential oil, making the overall price a lot cheaper. Also bear in mind that organic oils will be processed in a way that doesn’t involve harsh chemicals, whereas there is no safeguard against chemicals being used in non-organic.

May x

Hello and welcome…


Hello! And welcome to my health and wellbeing blog. I want to tell you a bit about myself and my own journey of healing. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2015, a neurological condition defined by chronic pain, fatigue, bowel issues, migraines and  mood disorders. I was diagnosed at the tender age of 19, and I felt like my life had come to a grounding halt. I had to quit my drama school course, move back home and try to come to terms with a diagnosis that doctors seemingly had no idea how to cure. I was told by my doctor that the condition was incurable and that my only hope was to ‘manage’ my symptoms with a cocktail of opioids and rest. I’m not kidding – I was literally handed several boxes of high strength codeine and sent on my way.

So, the next few years were pretty difficult. It took me a few years to discover what exactly was working for me and what wasn’t, and through the trials and tribulations I was still  in daily pain, and wandering when on earth I was going to see some progress. As I adjusted my diet, my daily habits and focused on my mental health, I saw dramatic changes in my wellbeing, and came to realise that I shouldn’t listen to anyone who tells me I just have to ‘manage’ my pain.

MY PHILOSOPHY

First of all, I strongly believe that any symptoms associated with fibromyalgia can be completely reversed. Although I still get chronic pain and fatigue on certain days , the difference in the severity of my symptoms from four years ago is pretty dramatic. I believe that once you  learn what works for you the healing journey is a never ending upward spiral.

Secondly, I have learnt to take the label ‘fibromyalgia’ with a large pinch of salt. Fibromyalgia is a pretty mysterious illness – in Western medicine there is no ‘cure’ because doctors are only able to treat the symptoms rather than the root cause. Over the years, I have also been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Hypothyroidism. And this is what makes the fibromyalgia label so confusing – there are so many crossover symptoms with other conditions that it makes it very difficult to know whether you have one thing or the other. Which leads me nicely onto my third point..

There is strong evidence to suggest that at the heart of all illness is an excessive amount of inflammation – so if you can reduce inflammation in the body then you can reduce the severity of your symptoms. This is the backbone of my philosophy and I think of my symptoms in these terms rather than the ‘incurable’ fibromyalgia label. I believe there are 6 main pillars of health that, if worked on , can induce amazing, long lasting benefits for health. These are: a low inflammation diet, deep restorative sleep, adequate exercise, stress management, healthy circadian rhythms, and reducing toxicity in the body.

One of the hardest parts about having issues with your health is the financial aspect – it can get pretty expensive trying to heal yourself while simultaneously not having a steady income. However, I’ve discovered so many things that have made  dramatic impacts on my health that are free or incredibly inexpensive. I’ll be detailing these in many blog posts to come!

Healing is about creating a balance between holistic and conventional medicine. Conventional medicine has been able to provide me with blood test results and MRI scans. Holistic therapies have provided me with the day to day tools that I know are addressing the root causes. So…this blog is my outpouring of all the small to big ways I’ve learnt to help and heal my symptoms, mainly from a holistic approach. I hope it is of some use to you and that you can find something new to add to your toolkit!

May x