I have been encouraged lately to see some new names join me, and many of my existing blog companions like and comment on my posts, in this, my little humble blog. The reason this means a lot to me is because the nature of my most recent posts have been in relation to mental health, and the struggles many of us face. It is so encouraging to me to know that in someway, writing about my experiences means that the things I have suffered may help someone among you feel less alone, be encouraged, or inspired to take the next step in your recovery or to help with that of a loved one. Years ago I knew I wanted to use my experiences to help others, but it is a long and ongoing journey and I had to fight through the tough times to find my own strength. So just know that each and every one of you is so valued here, and I appreciate you taking the time to read my posts.
That being said, it is important for me to take note of the fact that although like I said, this is just a small blog with a modest following, there has been more interest lately in my posts on mental health (I blog about many other topics as you will see if you visit my home page and see the tabs listed). It says to me that there are probably many amongst us looking for encouragement or even to compare experiences against. Although we can’t see each other, know that this can be a safe place for you to come, find encouragement and maybe even link with others in similar situations, and know that anyone commenting is prayed for as I do believe in your healing journey and that things can change for the better for you.
So, thank you. And know that I have taken notice of this interest, and am currently working on my next blog post focusing on anxiety in the workplace and what you can do about it. I’m still writing it, but it’s coming soon. If there are any particular topics you’d like me to explore further then let me know in the comments and I will look into it.
Take care, stay strong, you’re not alone, and you have a warm and supportive community of friends here. xx
I want to encourage those of you who have been trying so hard, but are struggling to ‘make progress’ in your recovery from trauma. Trauma is a complex issue, and although I am not a medical professional, I am a sufferer and survivor, and working on being a victor of severe complex post traumatic stress….or C-PTSD, but I personally don’t find the ‘D’ for ‘disorder’ a particularly helpful term.
Trauma can be the result of a one off event, or it could be caused by cumulative traumas and stresses which result in ‘complex’ trauma. No matter how seemingly ‘big’ or ‘small’ the trauma seems to someone on the outside, the impact is how it affects you individually and how it triggers your threat responses of fight / flight / freeze, and the anxiety, panic, fear and heightened emotions that result. When you are overpowered, shocked or in danger this can have a significant impact on your nervous system, and particularly when trauma occurs in childhood, especially if it is repeated and severe, the effects can be devastating and last well into adult life. What might not affect one person could have a huge impact on another, so it is not our place to judge whether someone should be ‘better’ yet.
However, often the biggest judgements come from ourselves. We feel that we have been trying *so* hard for *so* long that we surely *ought* to be better by now. Can you relate to this frustration and self blame?
The thing is, it is not so simple a situation of cause and effect that if one does A + B + C then after X amount of time, one will be ‘fixed’ or at least able to function on a ‘normal’ level. It just doesn’t work that way. Traumatic experiences cause our brains, nervous systems, emotions and bodies to react in a self protective way. Sometimes, especially in childhood, we ‘dissociate’ to block out and try to manage the pain, we’re ‘not really there’, but as we grow into adulthood, this survival mechanism becomes a maladaptive coping mechanism when we find it encroaching into daily life. Whether your trauma was a natural disaster, bereavement, childhood bullying, abuse, or a car accident, or ……you fill in the blanks….or a cumulative result of various stressors, your brain simply did not have the chance to process what happened, and so parts of you may remain ‘stuck’ in the trauma. I was in this situation for several years, and only recently have felt like I have been coming out of it and able to use my overwhelming experiences to help other people, rather than merely try to hold on and get through life somehow.
If you are in a place of feeling like the same cycle keeps repeating itself, the same flashbacks, memories, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, anxiety and panic attacks, insomnia, fear, agoraphobia, dizziness, dissociation, suicidal ideation (sometimes the brain’s way of trying to escape a situation we can’t cope with – there is always help, suicide is never the answer) feeling trapped between past and present, as if living in a waking nightmare where you are not in control of what seems to be ‘exploding’ in your mind, no matter how much work you put in, then please, please be gentle with yourself.
There is no set or objective time limit on recovery. The tangle within you may seem to be going nowhere and you may just keep feeling ‘stuck’….that is because your experiences remain unprocessed, and that is ok, it is normal, and it is not your fault….if only I had someone to tell me that earlier then I would have been saved from a lot of distress and self blame as to why I couldn’t simply ‘leave the past behind’ and get better already. The trauma gets ‘stored’ as it were not only in our brains but our bodies and nervous systems too.
So what should you do? I would encourage you that if you feel you are going through something like PTSD or trauma of any sort and can’t integrate past and present memories and experiences such that they are significantly interfering with your ability to cope with every day life, to get help as soon as possible….and know that it is never too late. I didn’t get help for trauma and was undiagnosed for over two decades, but I am making good progress now, even though the process was frightening and very tough….there is hope my friend.
Please don’t feel like you have to ‘tough it out’ on your own….it just doesn’t work that way….it isn’t a case of not being strong enough….I thought I should just be able to persevere through it, but my system was falling apart and I was pretty much malfunctioning and in constant heightened distress….that’s no way to live my friend, and if I can help someone to not have to go through what I did then I am blessed in that.
Please ask for help from a medical professional, and tell your friends what you are going through. Even if you’re not sure if you are traumatised, at least ask for an assessment, check up or diagnosis….there are plenty of treatments available out there. You need to feel safe and calm, so if you are not in danger then you can try working on various coping techniques. If you are in danger, please contact someone for emergency help whether that is the Police or a support service or call a helpline.
If you are physically safe, then here are some things you can think about doing.
Let someone or a few people you know and trust know what you are going through, and how serious you feel it is. Don’t worry about whether or not they will understand, they may not, but please reach out for help, and if you don’t have anyone, or don’t feel confident to tell someone you know then reach out whether that be to an organisation, a helpline or a professional.
Seek professional and medical help. This is so important because really we can’t cope with this on our own. This may be a huge step for you as it was for me, but please know that this is totally normal just as if you had a broken leg you wouldn’t hesitate to get help, please don’t see this as any different. It can help to have someone there for support so if you have a friend or family member who can be there with you don’t feel like you have to go it alone.
3. Write it down. It can be so difficult to try to articulate what we are experiencing, and writing things down can help on many levels from being able to communicate to others the level of distress we are going through, and what the specific symptoms are, to being able to offload and try to begin to process things for ourselves. Your notebooks like mine may be splattered with tears, but it could just be that important part of the healing process in telling your story rather than keeping all that pain buried which will just keep resurfacing or manifesting itself in some way or another.
4. Create a self-care ‘toolbox’. That is to say, be aware of what makes you feel better in a healthy way, and prepare in advance to have something at hand for when you are not doing ok.
-It could be practicing breathing exercises to calm your nervous system and reduce the ‘fight / flight / freeze’ reaction,
-having positive affirmations to encourage yourself throughout the day,
-exercising when you can and getting fresh air and eating healthily,
-having a list of emergency contact numbers ready so that when things are overwhelming and you just don’t know what to do you already have something prepared and ready. Have a few key ‘go to’ people, people who know your situation and are available when you are feeling distressed to talk on the phone or visit you if you feel in harm or danger. If you don’t feel you have anyone, note down some helplines on your emergency contact list.
-Have something comforting and tactile, whether it be a blanket, or a smooth stone or object in your hand to help keep you ‘grounded’ and present.
-Make a list of healthy distractions for those tough times when your thoughts get the better of you whether that be some safe and happy comedy programmes that won’t ‘trigger’ you, some craft or creative thing to do with your hands that will take your concentration away from your intrusive thoughts, a sweet you can keep in your mouth and concentrate on the texture and taste.
-Work on your 5 senses and noticing things around you to bring you into the present.
-Have a routine as much as possible and write down even the simplest things you need to do to keep your mind focussed even if it is as simple as eat something, brush teeth, etc. Sometimes our brains need that extra little prompt.
-Think of healthy wholesome things that make you feel good, so that you can build up those positive neural connections, and be aware of your triggers that lead to a slippery slope of rumination, negative thinking and heightened distress. Have something calming to listen to whether that be classical or instrumental music, nature sounds such as waves or birdsong, or whatever you find helpful…remember to keep it calm, and preferably without too much talking or lyrics so that your mind can relax.
-Practice muscle relaxation by clenching and gradually releasing one part of your body at a time, from your feet working up to your head, noticing your sensations as you do.
5. Be kind and gentle with yourself. While you are working through things, or awaiting professional help, or working with a professional trauma specialist things can and likely will get tough. This is why you need to exercise self-compassion and create a positive narrative and framework for how you see yourself and your experiences. Use your imagination, explore and create…it can be tough, but it also can be overcome. Things I did to try to make sense of overwhelming experiences were to think of what I would tell a young child going through what I did, what if it was another adult experiencing trauma what would I tell them, or a friend or loved one….show yourself no less compassion and be kind. I also imagined how I might feel towards a puppy that had been hurt or was in distress and looking broken and bruised and not very ‘loveable’ – how would I treat it to help it to gradually see how special it is, and to encourage it to get well and accept love and care – find your helpful ways of thinking of your situation and yourself so that you don’t have to also contend with those self-condemning thoughts that something is ‘wrong’ with you somehow to be going through all of this.
And lastly, know that you are not alone…you are never alone….even if it has felt that way for a very long time. There are stories of inspirational people who have gone through incredibly difficult things and are now doing well and even helping others….don’t feel like you’re not ok if you haven’t got there yet, but be inspired that it is possible, the human spirit can endure great hardships and overcome much and find meaning and purpose. This is not the end of your story or mine…in many ways it is just beginning so stay strong, reach out for help, and keep taking that next step….like athletes we need to stay in training and that includes our minds as well. xx
This week in the United Kingdom is Mental Health Awareness Week. Although this particular Awareness Week for 2019 ends tomorrow, the need to be aware of mental health is so important each and every day for a myriad of reasons, personally and societally.
Mental Health affects everybody, just as physical health does. And we each find ourselves somewhere on the scale between mental wellness and mental illness just as our bodies at different points in our lives can be well or ill. Similarly, we may each be prone to various physical or mental conditions that affect our health and wellbeing.
Somehow though it has become easier and more acceptable to talk about an injured limb, organ or other physical condition than to talk about an injured mind or brain. Thankfully, the societal and personal stigmas surrounding mental wellbeing and mental illness are gradually being addressed and it seems that we are slowly beginning to accept that these things aren’t shameful, just as it isn’t shameful to have broken one’s arm, and that it is incredibly important to dissolve unnecessary stigmas and talk and raise awareness about such a vital part of human life. We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. On a personal note, I had to confront my own stigmas and challenge those of people close to me and listen to the advice of those friends who saw me at a particularly low point and told me that I needed to get help. Years of childhood and adult stress, a chronic situation that our bodies and brains aren’t supposed to be under, resulted in me experiencing full blown symptoms of complex post traumatic stress, severe clinical depression and severe generalised anxiety disorder. I didn’t, however know or understand what was happening to me, and it was very, very frightening. I blamed myself and felt ‘responsible’ for my mind, without realising that these kind of injuries can’t simply be ‘thought better’ and were not one being ‘weak minded’ as for me anyway, they were a result of my body and brain’s ‘default’ being to exist in fight / flight mode, imbalances in chemical regulation physiologically including with the hormones cortisol, adrenaline and the chemical sertraline. I have two first class degrees, and additional awards, and hold down a full time professional job within an organisation that focuses on helping the society and community and individuals facing difficulties on many levels, so having worked so hard to overcome the damage that a severe period of bullying in childhood and adult stress had done to me, and working in a profession that helped ‘really’ traumatised people with actual severe life situations, I felt and thought that I ‘ought to be’ able to function normally. And yet, the reactions my body, brain and mind were experiencing were in fact very normal reactions to difficult life events…and I had in fact done so well to have come so very far, and still be helping society on some level, even while I was experiencing frightening flash backs, severe low mood, fear, anxiety, chronic pain, intrusive thoughts, disorientation, dizziness, dissociation, insomnia, nightmares and severe depression. I had to fight hard to do simple things like even wash a cup or make a meal or walk across the room. I felt like my brain was exploding and there was no off switch or mute button or way to turn it down to get relief. So out of absolute helplessness and necessity for my survival I reached out and went to the doctor (something I was frightened to do, and something I was also advised against in case it affected my career – it didn’t – in fact I have since been very supported at work), and with the encouragement of some friends I finally took that brave step a few years ago and I am so glad that I did. Despite waiting lists, the help from the NHS I have been given both in terms of medicine and psychological support has been incredibly beneficial. Don’t get me wrong, there was no ‘quick fix’ – it has taken several years of commitment, showing up, doing the hard work to be in a place where I can manage my symptoms rather than them ruining my life. And I realise that I have a ‘toolkit’ to be able to get stronger and stronger and help other people too, so this blog post is a real victory, and I thank God for that.
I want to encourage you if you yourself are struggling….with anything…or know a friend, family member or colleague who you think might be struggling with their mental wellbeing to be brave and take that first step to reach out. I do believe you will be listened to and supported. I know it can be daunting, but there are so many resources out there, and there are professionals who understand what is happening to you even if they don’t necessarily know or understand your individual life experiences, and it could just change or save your or somebody else’s life.
I don’t know what the best resources are in other countries, but in the UK, here are some very helpful, caring, professional sources that you can reach out to – even if you don’t have any issues as such but just want to learn more whether that be to grow in awareness of mental health issues, or to gain understanding of someone you know, then these are a great place to start.
Please do leave a comment if there are any particular things you’d like to raise awareness of as I would like to write more about mental health and learn from you too as this is so important and might be just what somebody out there needs to hear.
I’ve also linked to a YouTube channel of a licensed mental health professional who is very relatable, so that’s something anyone can access which is good if you’re based in another country.
Love to you all and thanks for reading, and for being you. Never be afraid to reach out and ask for help – that’s what it’s there for, and everyone is important and valuable. Also, if you know of any helpful resources in your country leave a comment in case someone else is looking for help where you are. Thanks. xx
I don’t know about you, but where I am it seems to be the season for cold and flu viruses doing their rounds. This year, it seems to be hitting people a bit harder than usual, including myself. There are few places at the moment where you won’t encounter someone with a sore throat, cough, cold or who is generally looking and feeling ‘under the weather’.
I am recovering (hence being able to sit up and write my blog) after being sick for over a week. I often find myself pondering, as my mind wanders, the analogies that exist between day to day happenings and life on a deeper level. So this time, friends, the life lessons come from the humble, common cold virus.
I had set myself a goal of having zero sick days this year. I also was quite adamant that I wouldn’t get sick when I realised that there was something in the air, as it were. However, those ‘promises’ were short lived when my body decided to grind to a halt against all my good intentions to stay well. I haven’t had a cold like this for quite a while, and certainly not one that caused me to be ill for over a week and unable to leave the house. Life has a funny way of teaching us. Here are some of the lessons that this cold taught me:
1. Sometimes life just happens, and we have to ‘roll with it’.
As I mentioned, I had no intentions of getting sick, and with my regular routines of exercise and quite healthy eating, I was doing alright to maintain a good level of health. But as we know now, I did get sick, and there really wasn’t much I could do to stop that from happening.
Sometimes life just happens, and we have to ‘roll with it’. Against all our plans, and despite our determination, sometimes life’s happenings get the better of us, and we find our self ‘on the bench’ or in the sick room, watching from the sidelines as everything continues without us .
Have you ever been there? Whether you have or haven’t, there’s no sure way to know whether or not you will be in the future. While we can’t necessarily prevent certain things happening, we may be able to lessen the likelihood of them happening. And where we can’t do that, we can build our daily resilience by building our character, working on our attitude and mindset, and taking care of what has been put in our care…being ‘good stewards’ of our giftings, belongings, responsibilities and relationships. And if you haven’t been doing that, and you do find that ‘the rug has been pulled out from under you’, you can still be intentional about how you think about and respond to the situation you find yourself in.
2. Busy isn’t always best…listen to your body and mind when they urge you to rest.
Now, when I did accept that I wasn’t going anywhere fast, I came up with a plan to get better as soon as possible and get back to work within a day or two. While some people are able to do that, my body had other ideas, and I was devoid of much energy and unable to move or to do the simplest things. Most of us live in societies and cultures where we are constantly compelled to be busy. We equate busy with useful even though being busy doesn’t necessarily mean being productive. When we stop walking by rivers, or cloud gazing or listening to the rustle of leaves in the park, in other words when we don’t ‘stop to smell the roses’, we allow ourselves to tune out of creation’s natural rhythms, and tune into the chaotic frequency of noise, bustle, busyness, and the frantic hurry of modern day life. If you have ever experienced ‘burnout’, times of stress, anxiety, panic attacks or other similar symptoms, you know that there is only so much your body, mind and heart can take before it simply takes a break, with or without your permission.
Believe me, busy isn’t always best…and I have a feeling that you know it yourself. Even when I was unwell, I wanted to clean, to tidy up the mess of the household work that I wasn’t able to do because I had no energy, and I just had to focus on getting better and obey my body which refused to do much at all other than rest, sleep, fight off the virus and ‘check out’ of ‘normal’ everyday life.
Don’t let it get to the point in life where you burnout, and where you are forced to grind to a halt. Take care of yourself daily. Yes, we all have to deal with life in a rapidly changing, moving world (well, at least most of us do), but that doesn’t mean that you have to add that extra thing to your ‘to do list’. Stop and rest a while. If you work in an office, do you really have to sit at your desk to eat lunch? Can you just ‘get away’ from it all for 20 minutes, and find a few moments to yourself to rest and eat and think without interruption? Do you need to be ‘plugged in’ to the world and all its happenings 24/7? Can you switch off earlier or more often and limit the time you allow your mind to be bombarded and overloaded by messages, stories, images and the constant stream of information that we face in an online world? Can you take a walk in nature more often? Can you choose to read a book rather than scroll through news feeds? Can you find the time to take a nap? Do you really need to ‘do it all’, and if so, is that ‘one more thing’ you have to do worth sacrificing your mental and physical health and wellbeing for?
3. We need each other
Robert Putnam in his well known article, ‘Bowling Alone’ wrote about the importance of ‘social capital’ in a world where people are increasingly ‘bowling alone’. We all gain from positive interactions, connections and relationships. It is necessary for a healthy society and healthy individuals.
I live alone, and when I was sick I really struggled to simply look after myself. How nice it would have been to have someone help out with simple things like doing the dishes, preparing food, or getting medicine. If you have such a someone in your life, please let them know you appreciate them 🙂 I had to do it all myself, but thankfully I was able to order groceries and cough and cold medicine to be delivered to my flat and that certainly helped when I was unable to go outside. While I didn’t have physical help, I did have contact over the phone with my family, and even that helped ‘keep me going’. Most of us don’t like to be dependent on others, but we are interdependent – that’s part of what it means to be human. Foster those good healthy connections and relationships. Reach out and ask for help when you need to, but also try to strengthen yourself to be able to be as resilient as possible if you do find that you have to go it alone in seasons or circumstances of life. And perhaps most importantly, be reminded that there are people, young, old and middle aged alike, who against all their wishes and determination, do find that they are dependent for help – perhaps their bodies or minds have ‘given up’ in some way, perhaps they no longer function as they once did, perhaps they are in a situation and state in life that they really didn’t wish for, and they simply cannot get by without the help or care of others. Maybe this is a temporary situation…maybe they have to endure this for a long time. We don’t like to feel dependent, but sometimes we are….and sometimes someone really could benefit from that offer of help, or from the unasked kindness of a hot meal made for them, a little help here or there…the risk of having the offer rejected is not so important as the potential impact of helping and encouraging someone who really does need it. Be brave…take that chance.
It’s an obvious one, but something so many of us struggle with….getting enough sleep. Yet it is essential for maintaining our health and wellbeing. We may be busy, but we cannot afford to trade off getting things done with compromising our health. It is amazing how sleep restores – there are so many functions going on within our bodies that we are barely aware of….don’t they deserve to get the rest and sleep they need? 🙂
5. What are you taking for granted?
So now we come to the final life lesson that the common cold has for us today: Gratitude.
How funny it is that we humans often take something for granted until we no longer are able to do or have it. We may moan about our jobs, but when we are unable to attend our work we find we miss it, or at least appreciate the ability we normally have to carry out our work. When we are confined indoors, we find a new appreciation for the outside world – for blue skies overhead, the sound of birdsong, the whisper of a breeze on our skin. When we are immobile, we think upon how wonderful it is to be able to move, to function, to have health and to do simple things on our own. When we are unwell, we appreciate health. When we are alone, we appreciate company. When we are tired, we appreciate strength.
Do you have any of these today? Do you have strength enough to do your housework? Be grateful and don’t grumble. Do you have a job to go to? Try to appreciate it, along with your ability to do it. Do you have someone to help you with the day to day things of life? Hold off from any judgements you may have of them for *how* they are helping, and show your appreciation that you have them in your life in the first place. Do you have health? Enjoy it, be thankful, use it to bring something good into the world today. Do you have money in your pocket, a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and a mind that is still functioning? Be grateful. Look after yourself, and those around you, and don’t wait until you no longer have it to appreciate what you have right now. xx
Travelling teaches youto put your problems in perspective.
For some, “getting away from it all” is exactly what we hope to be able to do. Not just in terms of getting away physically from the daily routine and responsibilities of day-to-day life, but as a means of escape from our deeper problems or issues or challenging circumstances and people.
Travelling teaches you, quite naturally, to look outside of yourself, to grow in awareness of other people, your surroundings, new cultures, ways of doing things and of life in general. One of the gifts of travel to you is that of a fresh perspective, and perhaps even renewed strength to go back and return to take on the tasks and issues of life that you needed a break from.
However, as naturally as this gift comes to us through the very experience of travel, there is a caution that we need to use this gift to grow and gain insight into how to live better or face those challenges, and not merely seek to keep escaping or running from them if that is the aim of “getting away”. For although we may be afforded for a time the freedom to live without those life problems pressing in upon us, we will at some point need to face the ‘world within’ that we cannot simply travel away from…and yet, exploring the world gives us new skills, insights and even hope to do just that with greater courage and confidence. xx
Weren’t we all created to soar? And yet how many of us feel like we have been buffeted by too many a storm, have had our wings clipped, and our hearts broken? Maybe the dreams we once had never took flight, and now we don’t see much point in ever seeking to soar the way we deep inside feel or wish that we were meant to.
Do you feel like that? The world we live in is replete with things that might dull our sparkle, burst our dreams, and render us unable to soar. Have you experienced this? The unkind words spoken to or about you perhaps not long ago, perhaps decades ago, that just don’t seem to leave you, affect your mental health, your view of yourself as valuable or worthy, your view of how others see you, and the opportunities you let yourself (or don’t) take. Maybe you have been bound and caged by more than just words (not that words themselves aren’t powerful and can be deeply harmful)…perhaps you have suffered abuse, physical harm, neglect, fear, uncertainty, and a whole host of things that I couldn’t perhaps imagine.
But somehow, you have found yourself here. Right now. Today. Reading this blog. And you feel like you are a failure or are not good enough, that your life hasn’t amounted to very much, and maybe you just need a big friendly virtual hug from a friend you don’t know, but who longs to encourage you. If you are that person, thank you for being here, thank you for reading this, and thank you for being you. Do you know what? I am that person too…and that’s why I’m reaching out to you. I’m not here to preach to you and I’ll mention this only briefly in this particular post, but you can find more in my ‘faith posts’, however, the Only true way to be released from your prison or cage is by the unfailing LOVE of Jesus Christ, and however long that journey might be for you, I hope you one day find rest in His love for you.
That being said, you might be wondering what the title of this post refers to. The small things are the big things. Friend, we may have been bruised, broken, tossed by tempest, storm and winds of circumstance and change, we may have felt (or even been) caged, imprisoned, oppressed, mistreated, made to feel unlovely, unlovable, unwanted, undesirable, unworthy, and so much less that we actually are.
But, listen….we are here. Now. And do you know why the small things are the big things? Because every time you get up again after being knocked down, you are doing something incredible. However small you might feel your achievements are, if you have taken the next breath through anxiety, depression, darkness or fear, you have made a great statement – you *are* worthy, you *can* do it, you *will* persevere, and you *are* special.
If you have continued on despite feeling like you have ‘fallen behind’ your peers, you are exceptional. If you have faced opposition from within and without, if you have not given up, if you got up when you felt like disappearing, if you went outside when you felt like hiding, if you spoke to someone when you felt afraid, if you took care of yourself, your health, and did the next small thing when it was most difficult to do so, whether through depression, anxiety, fear, pain, loss, grief, loneliness or whatever it may be, you did a great BIG thing, and dear friend, if you did it before, you can, you will do it again. So don’t underestimate yourself or the value of your small achievements…for at the end of the day the small things are actually the big things, and sometimes the small decisions and choices we make are the ones that will change our course and change our lives! Be blessed. xx
As promised, dear friends, here are the first of a few ‘before & after’ pictures from my big 2018 declutter, reorganisation & spring clean!
One of the main reasons I am posting this series, other than to help me keep track of my progress, is because I believe from experience that the way we live and use our space can have a huge impact upon our mental health, well being, stress levels and as a result, our quality of life.
I also want to encourage you, if you are struggling, that I wasn’t born tidy or organised, and from the pictures above you can see that it has taken considerable effort to overcome the challenges of disorganisation, clutter (and depression!), and to create a much happier, peaceful and enjoyable environment for myself and hopefully others. I also want to encourage you that if you want to make a change, but are currently feeling overwhelmed, not to worry, you’re not alone, and it can be done.
I’m sure that even looking at the before and after pictures, let alone being in the space, evokes an emotional and psychological reaction in you…the first picture no doubt represents somewhere that you probably wouldn’t want to be, whereas the second, ‘after’ picture is quite peaceful, ordered, inviting and aesthetically pleasing.
So where do you start? Let me suggest a few helpful hints and tips on your journey…(and for more, check out my previous blog posts in this home & lifestyle series that you can find from my main menu).
Know what you are dealing with, and break things down into smaller more manageable tasks. What I mean by this is that you will absolutely, definitely feel overwhelmed and daunted and perhaps even confused if you say to yourself, ‘I need to sort out / tidy / clean / declutter my house / flat’ etc if you don’t have any idea of how you are going to do this or where to start. Even if you feel like your entire living space is chaotic and that you can’t do it, believe me (and the pictures for proof!) that you can. Start with a pen and a notepad, and jot down the key areas or rooms of your home or flat. For me, this would be: the hallway, hall cupboard, my bedroom, small en suite bathroom, spare room (or dumping ground as it was for a long time), main bathroom, open plan living, kitchen, dining area. These can be broken down further, but that will be once you have focused your attention on a particular area. I find it helpful, even if I am doing different tasks simultaneously, to work as much as possible either by room by room and / or by theme.
Once you have chosen where to start, say for example, the bedroom, think about the items you use there, what you need, and your daily routine. Then think about how you will create a place for each type of thing. For example, storage of clothes, toiletries, bed linen, etc. Name places, even in your mind, but writing it down initially helps, and be disciplined in how you think about storage.
Next, when faced with a mess like that above, you will need to lighten your load and begin to declutter, bin, recycle, give away and sort the items that you do have. I found it very helpful to keep myself from getting overwhelmed to set aside some time and to look upon this stage as a game or a puzzle to solve. For example, I would perhaps get a big bin bag and start by identifying and throwing away all of the things I could see that could go straight into the bin. I did the same with items to be recycled and sorted them into papers and plastics. I also went by item type, and created a single (yes, just one!) identifiable storage space in my home that I could either immediately start putting things away in or where I would be able to once I had done more work of creating that space. For example, an easy step was to begin to identify the many plastic bags, take them out of the room, fold them and put them in one single place that I could go to when I needed a plastic bag. I did the same with other bags, and types of items such as scarves, etc. With clothes, towels, etc, I got them all out of the way and put them to one side, after which I washed and dried them and sorted them: some would go to charity, some for storage for the appropriate season, and others would be the clothes that I need for current use.
Sometimes you will need to purchase additional items to help you create a system. For example storage organisers, boxes, etc to create order. I have a small / medium sized wardrobe in my room with sliding doors. This can be tricky to make the most of the space available and I know that some people with these cupboards prefer to take off the sliding doors for easier access. I personally like the idea of being able to close the doors as who can guarantee that they’ll always keep their new system tidy?! I found that a lot of space was being wasted because there are no shelves or drawers inside, and any clothes that can’t go on the hangers tend to find themselves heaped in a pile at the bottom of the cupboard. So working from the inside out, I created additional storage space by buying this easy to assemble item as shown above and have organised my clothes and accessories so that the hanger space and the ‘free space’ is utilised. I have taken care to not pack the space full of stuff, which was made easier by getting rid of things when decluttering as well as creating storage space under the bed, by purchasing a very affordable ottoman to go at the end of the bed, and storage bags for underneath the bed, all with a specific purpose for particular types of items.
You will find that certain types of items just don’t belong in the room that they are in and that you will need to create an appropriate space for in the ‘correct’ room at a later date. You can begin by finding a temporary space to gather items of that type so that they don’t stay in the room that they’re not supposed to be in.
The whole process can be time consuming, depending on how deeply you are in your clutter, and can sometimes feel laborious, or overwhelming. However, you can do it! A wonderful place to start is with your imagination and inspiration. Daydream about your ideal room, and how you are going to make it that way. Having a strategy will enable you to accomplish so much more and much more quickly, as you work to a plan and don’t get caught up in the emotional baggage of how you got to this state in the first place. Perhaps you only need some ‘fine tuning’ in which case, as I develop my own, I will post guidance and tips on a daily / weekly / monthly / yearly ‘maintenance schedule’. Make sure that you don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. If you read over my previous posts you will find advice on the importance of having a space that you are happy to go to, even the tiniest ‘cosy corner’ so that you can take breaks, enjoy ‘now’ and allow yourself to rest and be refreshed.
It is a process, but if you turn your process into a puzzle to be solved rather than a chore to be endured, you might find that you enjoy it a whole lot more, and create the home of your dreams….right where you are!!! All the very best with your homemaking journey, friends. xx