Small Comforts #3: Friendship

A series of blogs to help those struggling with isolation

They may not look delighted to be around each other, but these two doggies are the best of friends, honestly! I chose this photo as it was part of a set that arrived in the post for me this week from my lovely friend Chris, which made my day and reminded me yet again of the power of friendship.

We are all feeling alone and very much apart from friends right now which is why a little text or gesture means more now than ever. I am so appreciative of the fact that my friends have never given up on me, despite the fact that anxiety sometimes makes me isolate myself and hide away from the world. Depression can cause your world to shrink until there’s nothing left but horrible feelings; but friends remind you that there is a different version of you still in there somewhere.

It has been particularly hard to communicate with friends over the last few months as I am consumed by shame. It just feels so wrong to be this low when the whole world is suffering so much. Thankfully my friends don’t judge me as harshly as I do myself, and I’m grateful that they continue to reach out to me. It helps so much knowing people believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself.

Friends are a lifeline to the world when you’re otherwise isolated, mentally or physically. It is such a comfort to know friends are there, so continue to reach out, even if you feel like you have nothing to say. Just listening to someone else can be a way of connecting and helping to ease your own negative thoughts.

This may be a short blog, but it’s also a big thank you from the bottom of my heart to all my wonderful friends who love me unconditionally.

Small Comforts #2: Back to Basics

A series of blogs to help those struggling with isolation

Uncertainty and powerlessness over our own lives have become our new normal, and that’s very difficult for everyone, let alone somebody who is naturally prone to depression or anxiety. Feeling powerless can be a massive trigger for distress and hopelessness.

One of the hard parts of this current situation is not knowing how long it is going to last. It reminds me of being in the middle of a bad bout of depression when you can’t see a way out, and it feels like life is always going to be always to be this bad. It’s hard to cling on to positivity when everything around is negative.

Among the most useful pieces of advice I’ve gotten over the years is that when times are bad, you should concentrate on the (very) basics. This is the way to get through the worst days, and hopefully a better day will follow. Comfort can come from having a day where you follow all the basics and you feel less useless at the end of the day than you did at the start. Don’t underestimate the power of that.

The basics might go something like this:

  1. Eat three proper meals – nourishing yourself is a good way of self-soothing.
  2. Get a good amount of sleep – don’t worry too much if you find yourself sleeping more than normal. A nice nap can do wonders to reset a bad day.
  3. Try to get outside for some (social distanced) exercise if you can. Feeling physically strong helps a lot if you are struggling mentally. I’ve always found that being outside, in nature, is a great way of grounding myself when my head has started to go a bit mad.
  4. Get washed and dressed – Even washing your face and putting on clean pyjamas can lift your mood slightly. A nice double-cleanse at the end of the day is also a good way to be kind to yourself.
  5. Do one basic task everyday which will give you a sense of accomplishment. This is something you can think about when you go to bed at night to mark out today as a good day. It doesn’t matter what the task is: it could be cleaning; a piece of work; anything that occupies your mind and gives you back some self-worth. My task for today has been writing this.
  6. Don’t compare your life to others.  Try not to spend too much time on social media, if anything it can make you feel more isolated if you feel like everyone on your feed is having virtual house parties.
  7. Don’t obsess about the future – Now is not the time to question the bigger problems in your world. Your life might be very far from where you would like it to be at the moment but that’s ok. You might feel like you are going to be trapped where you are now forever; I know I do sometimes. Thoughts like this make me feel overwhelmed and so panicky so I literally have to haul myself out of it by distracting myself with something simple.

I realise that “focusing on the basics” might seem a bit, well, basic – I’m sure if you are at home right now looking after small children AND trying to work then you may roll your eyes at this advice! But I’m thinking more of someone who is alone, feeling anxiety for the first time and struggling with the impacts of enforced isolation. In those circumstances, the basics can often get neglected. Feeling a lack of purpose is terrible for your mental health and simple things like this may seem silly but achieving the basics when you feel overwhelmed is something to be proud of.

One last thing: I feel incredibly guilty all the time at the moment for suffering from depression, and for those feelings still being in my head during these strange times. If you feel that way too then please don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re not weak, you’re not a failure. You have an illness and that illness isn’t going to magically disappear just because a pandemic comes along. So: be compassionate to yourself as well as others. You are not alone in feeling scared, anxious or upset right now.


Small Comforts

A series of blogs to help those struggling with isolation

As someone who has suffered from mental illness for quite a while, some of the advice I have been given or offered to others just seems completely pointless at the moment. Trying to get out of your own head and concentrate on the outside world is hard when that world is going through unprecedented events. We are all trying our best to navigate a way through, without any map to guide us.

Depression tends to make you ruminate on past mistakes and very fearful of the future. Indeed, a future often seems impossible to imagine in the midst of a depressive episode. Alongside that, anxiety can cause an incessant, repetitive worry about what’s behind and in front of us. Therefore, we are told to try to learn the skills of being in the present: “live in the moment”!

Well, living in the moment right now is frankly bloody difficult for all of us. Of course, I worry about the impact of enforced isolation on those of us who suffer with mental illness, but I’m equally worried about people I love who have never known what’s it’s like to suffer from anxiety. I fear for the impact that the lack of social engagement will have on them.

I’m not sure I have much to offer in terms of help but hey, I’ve dealt with the challenges of isolation before so I am therefore going to use this period of self-isolation to write about the little things that have brought me comfort in my darkest days, in the hope that it may help someone who is struggling in the current climate. These small comforts are the little distractions that keep the dread of life at bay for a little while. The one absolute truth I have learned is that all you can do in the darkness is get through one day at a time – sometimes even just one hour at a time – and keep hoping that each new day is a step closer to normality.

SmallComforts #1 (cookery shows)

Whether you are in isolation and all alone, or stuck indoors with your family, I reckon a half hour of escapism to soothe your frazzled brain will be welcome. So here is my first suggestion: cookery shows!

The news can be extremely agitating right now – especially if you’re prone to feelings of hopelessness or anxiety anyway. That means that the best distractions are often light-hearted – it is difficult to concentrate on anything too serious. I have always found cookery shows to be extremely soothing in times of crisis, so here are a few of my favourites:

Barefoot Contessa, Food Network

This features Ina Garten and her adorable husband Jeffrey as they go about their merry life living in the Hamptons. Ina uses at least twelve sticks of butter in all her recipes, and Jeffrey arrives home every Friday night from the city with flowers for Ina, who will have his favourite chicken dinner ready. They are “couple goals” for sure, which helps to soothe a bruised heart as well as an aching head.

Pioneer Woman, Food Network

This is my top tip for escapism. The Pioneer Woman is Ree Drummond who lives (wait for it!) on a huge cattle ranch in Oklahoma. She shares recipes that she uses to feed her wholesome family, as well as all the cowboys on the ranch. The Drummonds seem to own most of Oklahoma as far as I can make out, and are probably Republicans, but leave all that to one side and enjoy the wholesomeness of the whole thing.

Ree makes cookies and drops parcels off for her pastor, her sons say things like ‘yes ma’am’, and Ladd (the husband) is easy enough on the eye. Oh, and Chuck (the grandad) also seems like great craic. As for the food, these people consume insane amounts of meat, including steaks for breakfast. Ree cooks up brilliant American stuff like grits, Frito pie, snacks to accompany big football games, and tex-mex which the cowboys seem to have a grá for.

Once she’s done cooking, she loads everything into her pick-up truck and drives it out to the lads who are working cattle or something (they always look remarkably clean, so I’m, suspicious about this premise). Ree then hands out the food and everyone is happy. My only complaint is that I have NEVER seen anyone drink a cup of tea on this programme (more about the comforting power of tea to come in a future blog!). More specifically, Ree brings dessert to the cowboys with a lack of hot beverages of any description. You cannot be having dessert without tea or coffee to accompany it, as any Irish person will tell you.

Other notable mentions include: any Nigel Slater show: he is pleasingly scatty, and his Simple Cooking series is airing again on BBC1 in April. A dear friend also introduced me to the delights of old Keith Floyd. His Floyd on France shows are charming with sumptuous scenery – and available on the BBC iPlayer.

More generally, I find most cookery shows offer an easy way to comfort yourself and take the edge off anxiety. The gentle distraction can help, even if it’s just a little. This is the key to managing anxiety, distress or feelings of hopelessness. I suppose it’s the equivalent of soothing an upset child with a simple diversion. We all need comfort.

More Small Comforts blogs are on the way…