“Optimist: someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s a cha-cha.” – Robert Brault

The last few months have felt like I’m in a game of snakes and ladders. No sooner do I move along a few spaces or, if I’m lucky, up a ladder, than I land on a snake and have that deflating feeling as I slither back down again. It’s less fun in real life than the board game, but if I keep in mind that being at the bottom of the snake is only temporary and I’ve progressed up the board before, then I can stay focussed on the fact that a step backwards isn’t the end of the game. I can move forward again and with perseverance I can get to the top of the board.

And unlike the board game, life isn’t just about the luck of the dice. I’m learning every day more practical ways to help me move up the board, step by step to where I want to be.

The hard part is that sometimes when you’re engulfed in one of those days where you feel hijacked by anxiety or negative thoughts, your head can feel such a jumble and so overwhelmed that it’s hard to take a step back and remember all the things that you know help you feel better.  So my advice today is to have one place to go to where you have everything written down.

I have two large notepads that I keep together in one place. One is a scrapbook where I’m gradually collating – like a Blue Peter project – pictures, photographs and quotes that I love. And things like poems my daughter’s written, cards from friends. Everything in there brings me joy, lifts my spirits and reminds me what’s important to me. It’s a great way to take me out of a negative place.

In the other book I write down things I’m learning along this journey – as suggested by my wonderful coach at the CFS Health Clinic.  Tips, thoughts, feelings, actions I can take. Over the last few days I’ve made a few important lists that again I can go to easily to help me if my head is full of negative chatter and I’m struggling to feel positive. They are:

– a list of everything that’s awesome about me. We spend far too much time criticising ourselves – we would never speak to a friend the way to speak to ourselves. So, a bit more self-love is definitely a good thing. For example, I know I’m caring, loving, kind, sensitive, determined and brave – I’ve done many things in my life that scared me like jump out of a plane, hold a tarantula, travel around Australia alone, compete in a triathlon and, of course, open up very publicly about my current recovery journey from anxiety and chronic fatigue syndrome.  Everyone will be able to make a list of things that are awesome about themselves – even if takes a real battle of wills to silence that inner critic for a while.

– a list of all the times I’ve gotten through a bad time, like I’ve survived a panic  attack or I’ve managed to do something I didn’t think I could

– everything I’m proactively doing to get better, for example feeding my body good nutritious food, using meditation to relax, learning about how else I can help myself, resting when I need to, asking for help etc.

– I also now write down every evening three things I’m grateful for. They can be as big or as small as you like. It might be as simple as being grateful that my bed is so comfy, or for my kids making me laugh because of something silly they’ve done. It could be for the fact I have hot water at the turn of a tap. Or the kindness of a friend who sent me a thoughtful card or gift.

The next list I’m planning to write is all the positive things about having to deal with anxiety and CFS. No I’m not crazy, if you look hard enough they are there.  I’m learning that I’m stronger than I ever thought. I’m receiving so much love and support and it’s bringing me closer to people because I’m opening up and others are opening up to me in response. I’m learning what’s really important in life – and what’s not.

So now any time I need a lift I have all these amazing resources to hand. And they work. Especially the more you use them – the brain is like a muscle that needs to be exercised.

So get writing. It’s amazing what you’ll come up with – and even the act of doing it is taking positive action which can help you feel more in control.

“Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers or you can grow weeds.”

Hazel x

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