Winning Little Battles

This morning I got an email reminder about something I owed a payment on, and it was was all “GRRR ARGH WHERE’S MY MONEY BITCH OR WE’LL SEND THE BAILIFFS ROUND” in its tone. Okay, it wasn’t at all like that in real life, but in my anxiety-prone brain that’s exactly what I heard and saw. I threw my phone under my duvet and got up to make tea, ignoring the horrible tension in my stomach and noise in my head.

I'm in there somewhere.

   I’m in there somewhere.

This is normally where the story would end, me being an ostrich of the highest order when it comes to being able to tackle regular adult trials and tribulations. I’d ignore everything and dread turning my phone on each day, wondering when I’d get a note under the door to let the bailiffs in, and other such catastrophic consequences, the thoughts of which would make me nauseous and say goodbye to any peaceful nights of slumber for the foreseeable future.

However, this wasn’t 2013 J-Ro. Heck, it wasn’t even 2014 J-Ro. This was ‘Straight Outta 2015 and Right Into 2016’ J-Ro; a woman who reads an email like that and thinks “I’d better sort that ASAP”. Well, about an hour after that thought I got it sorted. I’m not perfect.

Would you believe that all I had to do was call and update my card details? Would you believe that I knew that in advance of making the call? Furthermore, would you believe that despite having the card details and the finances at hand to get back up to date (my previous card had been hacked so I had to get a new one which put the brakes on my entire internet life), I STILL felt almost completely paralysed at the thought of sorting it out? If your answer to all these questions was a resounding YES, then congratulations – you’re almost fully versed in the machinations of a brain riddled with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Either you know it personally, or know someone it affects. Some craic, innit?

goldfish

Anyway, I digress. I took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and spent a whopping two minutes with a very pleasant young man called Daniel who laughed at my ramblings as he updated my card details and basically sorted what was actually a COMPLETELY TINY INNOCUOUS VERY FIXABLE ISSUE. By the time the kettle was boiled for my self-congratulatory cup of tea, I had completed a basic adult task that would make no more difference to a regular grown-up’s day than wiping one’s arse in the loo. And I was SO PROUD of myself. For the first time in years, adulthood and I were on friendly terms.

Only I would really understand how far I’d come since what I call The Bad Time. Back then, I was completely broken. The phone ringing would have triggered a massive anxiety episode, letters arriving in the post would make me feel sick. Any appointments I had to attend sent me into spirals of terror and insomnia. To put it mildly, I was fucked.

fucked

Nowadays I’ve (mostly) settled into the driving seat of my brain, and those days are hopefully behind me. I’ve done countless regular adult-y things since then obviously; I know this because (a) I’m not homeless and (b) I smell fairly okay on a daily basis – I think. But today, I used this opportunity to take stock at how far I’ve come the last few years in terms of recovering from The Bad Time. The details of what / how / when / where / who was involved my recovery are for another time, but this post is about acknowledging victory over the little battles in life, so that by doing so, you can avoid an all-out psychological war with yourself. Again.

It’s nice to evaluate where you are in the world every once in a while. Apparently today is World Compliment Day as well, so fuck it – I may as well pat my own back as well as all the backs of all the poor souls who call me their friend and did whatever bit they could to, quite literally, keep me above ground when I could barely drag myself out of bed or up off the floor. Y’all know who you are. I’ll be coming to a hug near you very soon.

So if you’re up against the little battles, keep going. One at a time. And cheer the fuck out of yourself as you conquer each one. Don’t be looking at the status of others; if all you can handle right now is opening a bill without becoming short of breath, then that’s all you can do. Ask a friend to hang out with you while you do it. Seriously. Make a party out of it. Involve Tayto sammitches and tea if it’ll help. Whatever shit you need to do to slowly plug back into the world, DO THAT SHIT. You’ll be glad you did. In time, you’ll be writing a post just like this, with memes and all.

Fingers crossed, I’ll still be doing it too. See you there.

J-Ro

<3

Mental Health Adventures: Confessions of a Dermatillomaniac

I’m writing this post on the back of a very shitty sleepless night, borne by a downward spiral of anxiety from somewhere deep within the pit of my brain. I’ve had a rough couple of weeks dealing with what for me is one of the biggest, and most visible, symptoms of my anxiety disorder.

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When J-Ro Went To Portland…Part 2 (A Sad Southeast Grind Story)

Thursday Night:

Having gotten in around 10.30pm and found where I was staying (the cutest place in the world, the whole upper area of that part of the house was all mine, I set down my bags, had the chats with Stacey and Carlos (aka Starlos) my gracious & very cool AirBnb hosts, and headed for a bar a few blocks down from the house that served food. I was feckin’ STARVIN’ at that stage. Met some very cool folk who were of the tattooed & loud music-loving variety like myself so I wasn’t on my own for long. People are super-friendly here. Also, when you give your usual Irish-style greeting of “How’s it going?”, be advised they WILL answer you and be genuinely surprised at your enquiring as to their mood. Some laugh at the registers in shops, I tell you.

I got straight onto Portland time spending an hour or so at the bar, until I got back around midnight, and fell into a heap on the lovely bed, more comatose than asleep, but it served the purpose. Friday was going to be a strange one.

A Southeast Grind Story

About six minute’s walk from where I’m staying, I found a 24-hour coffee place called Southeast Grind. I walked in off the sidewalk (nobody knows what I’m talking about when I say ‘path’), and straight into pretty much what I had imagined Portland to be in my mind in a single screenshot. It was the kind of place my teenage nineties self could only ever hope for or fantasise about. The closest I’d had back then was Java’s, and as grungy and laid-back as it was, this place makes it look like a capitalist wet dream. This is where all the people come to chill and graze intermittently on healthy snacks and home-made smoothies, and organic everything. Click on the pic below to see their website. Here’s what I wrote about the place while I was there that Friday morning:

southeast-grind

The minute I walk up to the counter I feel like I’ve discovered Mecca. To have a 24-hour coffee place a stone’s throw from my temporary home is damn near perfect for me. It’s full of couches and armchairs with strange people burrowing away on laptops or writing in journals; one guy in zebra-print leggings and hipster glasses is sketching something on a pad in a chair by the window. Swear t’God. All seem happy in their own company, but there doesn’t seem to be that air of ‘leave me the fuck alone’ like you would get in another big city coffee place like Dublin or London. I’ve already witnessed like 3 hugs betweeb friends coming and going since I’ve sat down in the last fifteen minutes. I bet if I looked closely at what people were working on, it’d be a book, or a screenplay, or a blog post…or college work. Wouldn’t want to stereotype too much…

Told the girl behind the counter I’d just flown in from Ireland last night. She was all excited and told me she’d ‘always wanted to visit the UK’. Hmmm. I said ‘Oh lovely. Well Ireland is pretty cool too!’ I’ll let her off this once…

There’s a corkboard by the counter with just one or two pictures stuck on, along with a beautifully handwritten poem placed in the centre of the board. I look closer, and see both pics contain the same person; a happy, floaty-looking willowy blonde girl. There are two bumper sticker-type posts side-by-side flanking the pictures, and I realise that they are for organisations that work to prevent suicide, self-harm and offer support for mental health issues. The poem is dedicated to ‘Alex’, and it dawns on me that the happy-looking blonde willowy girl is, or was, in fact, Alex. I got the impression from the content of the poem and the loving tribute message written and stuck alongside the poem that she used to work here, and was very dearly missed. I don’t know if it’s the jet lag or the enormity of embarking on solo travel saddled with a weirdly-wired brain that’s hit me, but I want to burst into tears with the sadness of it all.

Maybe it’s the wide-open honesty and genuine loss all contained on this simple chalkboard that gets me. Coming from a town that has a massive issue with suicide and mental health issues being improperly addressed by those in high places, it’s almost a relief to see something as visible as this highlighting both the complexity and simplicity of deciding to take one’s life, and the consequences left behind. Being someone who has stood on both sides, and given a lot of brain cells to considering her ‘options’ in the darkest loneliest times of my life, to see it laid out bare in front of me was a jolt of reality. It’s an approach we need badly back home. Those on the ground level of the systems and all the support groups work tirelessly to bring out the monster from under the bed, but it’s not enough. We need to vocalise and visualise suicide, to stop it being a silent word people mutter under their breath when talking about someone who took their own life. The act itself is louder than a thousand drums to those who are immediately affected, so we need to dilute the noise and let people talk about it. 

Having seen the corkboard within one minute of arriving into Southeast Grind for the first time, I found myself missing this girl called Alex, and I had never met her. I never would. Therein lies the vacuum of pain that suicide creates in its aftermath. If she had still been alive, I would probably be writing about the chats I had with the cool friendly blonde girl behind the counter who was loved by everyone there. Instead, all I can do is mention her in this small blog post that not a whole lot of people will read; so even though she’s gone, having succumbed to an illness that I (and countless others around the world) know only too well, I can still help a little in letting my part of the world know that somewhere in Portland Oregon, there was a girl called Alex who used to work in a fantastic coffee house, and everyone loved her. Rest in Peace Alex. Those of us still down in the bunker trying to get out will keep fighting the good fight.

Apologies for the heavy nature of the post, but sometimes you have to face the bad and the good. Tune in next time for the much lighter second half of the day, in which I get over my innate Irish habit of hesitating to approach weird & wonderful people…

I FUCKING LOVE COLOURING IN.

https://instagram.com/_jayrow_/

Follow me on Instagram – click the pic!

I’m 37 in less than 2 months, and I’ve got a new addiction that up until recently would have been meant for the confines of a Kindergarten or a Junior Infants class of a weekday morning. I’m addicted to colouring books. More specifically, colouring books made especially for grown-ups. I’ve called them Adult Colouring Books, but that just conjures up images of pages upon pages of boob, fanny and willy drawings, or outlines of a page or ten from Kama Sutra; although, I’m sure somebody’s thought of that already. Nothing new under the sun and all that… *goes searching on Amazon*

I may have been a bit trigger-happy with the 'click to buy' button.

I may have been a bit trigger-happy with the ‘click to buy’ button. Click the pic to see more on my Instagram!

So why is there such a fascination with Grown-Up Colouring books now? Well from my uneducated lay-person standpoint, it seems to be a branch coming out of the Mindfulness movement – giving people a chance to be ‘in the present’ (feckin’ hippies I know, but it works) and calm the mind, giving it focus and having a moment or two of time to yourself doing something pleasurable and visually stimulating in the process. A little bit of Occupational Therapy for the price of a colouring book and some markers.

From the Completely Calming Colouring Book 2 - Love. Click on the pic to head to Amazon and buy it.

From the Completely Calming Colouring Book 2 – Love. Click on the pic to head to Amazon and buy it.

Years ago in the midst of a very dark patch, I was in town and I got a notion that I wanted to colour in. It seemed that my love of stationery was a gateway drug to it; but there wasn’t anything in the way of a wide assortment of books to choose from. Either that or I just didn’t have the wherewithal to go looking for it online. So into Michael Guineys I went, bought a jumbo kids’ colouring book and a packet of markers all for under a fiver, and headed home all excited to stick my head into a bit of childhood regression; anything to alleviate the ball of twine-sized anxiety in my stomach that nothing would shake.

Stationery is Sexy AF

Stationery is Sexy AF

It didn’t last long, mostly because there’s only so many giant cartoon dogs you can colour in before you get bored. You’re engaged in a childlike activity, but that doesn’t mean you need child-centred content. This year I started to properly discover more advanced books with detailed patterns and shapes, repetitive geometrics, paisley-style prints, mandalas, and detailed cartoons of the most beautiful things in the world. I’d seen one or two books in the senior classrooms of the schools I’d taught in, given to kids who would finish work faster than the others and needed to keep themselves occupied with something a bit more challenging, and I was SO JEALOUS. So imagine my delight when I saw how huge the range of colouring books had become for overgrown kids like me.

Click on the pic to head over to my Instagram and get some colour ideas!

Click on the pic to head over to my Instagram and get some colour ideas!

So if you think it’s something you’d like to try out, I can’t recommend it enough. For so many reasons. I suffer from Dermatillomania, which is basically a compulsive skin-picking disorder, and has been the bane of my life ever since I developed my fine motor skills. At its simplest, it’s anxiety-based, and left unchecked, causes huge pain and discomfort and scarring. It’s like a mild unconscious form of self-harm, so the doc tells me. When anxious, I’ll tear at the skin on my body, face, hands, to the point where my fingers are so sore from having pulled hangnails (imaginary or otherwise) that they leave infections and swelling behind, and I’m left disfigured, bleeding and in pain. So when the chance to get stuck into something that would otherwise occupy my hands, I pounced on it like it was the last Krispy Kreme on earth. It’s the artistic equivalent of a stress ball for me, and what it saves me in disfigurement and low self-esteem cannot be measured.

It's called The Hipster Coloring Book, but don't let the title put you off. It's SO MUCH FUN. (click pic to buy on Amazon)

It’s called The Hipster Coloring Book, but don’t let the title put you off. It’s SO MUCH FUN. (click pic to buy on Amazon)

I really think you should give it a go. You don’t have to be a Salvador Dali type, there’s designs and pics out there to suit everyone. If you think a book of complicated mandalas might add to your stress levels, then there are others with simple yet adorable pics and lettering you can sweep a marker or pencil across with delight. Click on any of the pics to find the books pictured here on Amazon, or to go to my Instagram to see what manner of a colour scheme I’m chucking down on to a page.

Follow me on Instagram - Click the pic!

Follow me on Instagram – Click the pic!

Pen, pencil, or ink?

You all know the usual suspects to get hold of in any bookshop or stationery (yum) shop; Crayola, Sharpie, Faber-Castell and all those are obviously perfect to kick off your colouring habit. I got a 24-pack of brilliant Crayola markers in Heatons for under €8 (with a free blank sketchbook thank you vey much!) to start me off. I’m a markers girl myself, being a cartoon lover until the day I die, but there are some amazing colouring pencils out there if you take a bit of time to wander around art supply shops and see which ones you like.

If you want to pimp out your colouring experience, Staedtler Fine Tips are the mutt’s nuts altogether. Having explored the wonderland website of artist Johanna Basford (click the pic below to see her work), I decided to splurge on the Staedtler so when I decided to take on intricately detailed drawings and patterns, I could keep my perfectionist side at bay by staying inside the lines. Her books are an absolute treasure. They’re next on my list. Click the pic below to be taken to her website and have your mind blown.

Click on the pic to head over to Johanna's website to see all her books and the pens she swears by.

Click on the pic to head over to Johanna’s website to see all her books and the pens she swears by.

There you have it, a short and (hopefully) useful guide to get you started on the road to regression. There really is nothing like taking a bit of time to yourself and indulging in a pastime that makes you feel like a happy kid again. It’s also a lot more socially acceptable than, say, firebombing your workplace or quitting your job in spectacular Jerry Maguire-style fashion following an epiphany / nervous breakdown. Be nice to yourself; make a bucket of tea or grab a class of wine, curl up on a comfy couch with your pencil case and book of choice and GET COLOURING IN. You won’t regret it. I promise.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw