Tag: Coping Strategies

Absence

So many times I have tried to start posting again and been unable to write. Tonight at least I’m going to write something even if it’s rubbish.

I stopped because I felt I was constantly moaning, constantly apologising for the same failings then failing again, constantly sad, ill, unthankful, dissociated… and I’m in about the same place now. Shakier actually. When I started this blog I really didn’t want it to be like that.

Tonight I’m days into yet another period of being half gone, needing to be out of it, but knowing I can’t be too. And it’s twisting inside my chest, pulling me, dragging me, itching, hurting, voices getting louder, so desperately needing to do anything to turn it all off, but I mustn’t and I can’t. And this is rubbish. I can’t even get a tiny part of what’s going on inside, out. I used to cope in bad ways but I can’t even go to those ways now …. and everyone says oh it’s really good, you’re doing really well, but I’m losing my grip and imploding. Despite so so many things that are good or should be good and that makes it even worse.

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Walking this Borderland #13: Tangled!

(For an explanation of the intention of this series please click HERE. )

In learning to sit with different emotional states, I’ve discovered that tactile, sensory experiences are important for me. I find warmth, softness, different textures, tastes and so on soothing and a major way of soothing and coping with anxiety and distress. Creativity and surrounding myself with an environment that feels safe and contains pleasant sensory experiences is a necessary part of staying stable and well for me. 

It’s not surprising then that I find certain objects are good for aiding self-soothing. One habit I fall into when I’m anxious, upset or emotionally uncomfortable is scratching and pulling at the skin on my arms, hands and sometimes face. Often, until it starts to bleed this is an unconscious thing, though it can also be something I’m aware of but irresistibly compelled to do in response to psychotic thoughts about evil inside me or mental images of having to cut things out of me.

Meet my new toy – it’s a Tangle.

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The Tangle is a bendy, twisty, small plastic form, made of lots of smaller sections connected together so it can be stretched out, bunched up, wrapped round and twisted into different shapes between your fingers. It has a smooth, pleasing texture. It’s very light and little, easily fitting in your pocket or bag. I’ve started carrying this with me and in times I’m likely to start scratching – when I’m waiting for something or when I’m nervous, for example – I hold the Tangle and fiddle with it. So far it has worked well to reduce the unconscious scratching.

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I’m sure no end of other objects would also serve this purpose and I also use a special pebble and a tiny stuffed animal toy for similar purposes.

Now, on the subject of Tangled, here’s another kind of “Tangled” – one of my goddaughter’s favorite Disney songs (from the movie of that name) which I have to admit is quite uplifting, for all it may be cheesy. We all need a bit of happiness sometimes and this scene is quite magical.

Ginny xxx

“At last I’ve seen the light” from Disney’s musical “Tangled” sung by  Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi.

My latest creative projects

This week has been demanding with two medical appointments, an assessment for a disability benefit I am hoping to claim, meeting with my support worker, taking documents about my changes of circumstances (now signed off from work) into the housing office, catching up on filing a massive stack of paperwork which keeps pouring in thick and fast at the moment as I am sorting out different Benefits claims, and a difficult situation in relation to my therapy group, which I’ll post more on shortly.

I’ve been really needing some calming time amid all this. Colouring is still my go-to calming activity at the moment. Also, I’m continuing making greetings cards and have got together some photos to use to make some for a friend who has requested some. It’s lovely to do them with a particular person in mind and I’m happy they are good enough that someone would actually request them.

Here is a picture I’ve just begun colouring, from a book called “Secret Garden” drawn by the amazingly talented Johanna Basford.

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My step-brother graduated last week, so I made him this little card with stars on the front, putting to good use some of the materials my friend kindly gave me for my birthday the other week:

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This week I need to tidy and organise my card materials, as everything is thrown in a box together and I am sure there is quite a bit I’m not making good use of!

I’m thankful that I have these hobbies which I can still do fairly much unaffected even when my physical health isn’t great.

Do you have a favourite hobby that helps you relax?

Ginny xxx

A Very Hungry Caterpillar finds a home

I found this little guy when I was sweeping my patio. I thought he’d prefer a nice leaf to curl up on, rather than the paving stones.

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I am trying to tidy up my patio garden. It isn’t big at all – I have a patio door that opens onto a very small paved area and then a small flower bed beyond. I haven’t given this little space the attention I should since I moved in, largely as my physical challenges make gardening tiring and painful. Plus I’ve never particularly enjoyed it!

This week I’ve made the promise to start caring for it better. It is a blessing that I have this little outside space. I didn’t expect it at all and living in a flat it’s a privilege to have any garden. It’s a help for everything from being able to hang out washing to getting to sit outside, breathe, pray, ground myself in all the sensations of outdoors, and feel less isolated when I’m not well enough to walk far – I don’t have to stay totally indoors.

So I want to behave more thankfully for my little garden and take care of it and find ways in which, just maybe, I can create something pretty. It can be part of learning to give some time to creating a permanent and stable home, which I’m really not used to having, as until I came to this flat I was living between different kinds of shared and temporary accommodation where most of the time I stayed shut away in my one room, too scared of interacting with other people and too locked into my obsessional thoughts and hallucinations to leave it unless I could fulfil my compulsive behaviors and unless I could be sure I’d see no-one. I’ve had to leave so many places when I lost jobs, couldn’t make the rent, broke down mentally and was so disturbed I’d be asked to leave by the people I was living with.

Some level of security (though I’m not without financial problems) is a new thing for me and it’s hard to build on it. Any home I have, I expect to lose. Actually, for some strange reason i haven’t figured out yet, having a home and taking responsibility for it frequently fills me with panic. I feel like I’m losing control or can’t manage it, I’m out of control with everything I’d want to be in order (paperwork or cleaning etc) or other times I’m not sure what I’m scared of; something to do with I’m not allowed my safety, knowing it’ll be taken away, fears of being attacked or watched by my abuser and flashbacks associated to particular places in my flat. Having said that, I can feel safe in my home and I even have a place within my home where I surround myself with comforting and grounding things that help me stay safe when I’m dissociating, having flashbacks, the emotions are too much, and the like. I thank God for that. It’s so important for me to learn how to build on this otherwise I ignore the goodness of everything I have. Giving myself permission to trust in having security and knowing how to create an ordered home that I care for and give thanks for, is a new thing to me. I’m trying to take some little steps towards it, with my garden and trying gradually to bring more order to each room in my home.

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(Thanks so much to Cathy and her lovely blog at  https://cathylynnbrooks.com/ for reminding me how nice it is hanging out washing in the sunshine 🙂 – and as ever encouraging me so much to appreciate the beauty of the present moment in the little things. )

Ginny xxx

Crashing

This is a hard post to write.

I have not been coping physically with my job for a long time. I have really tried to ignore this. Since I started it made my pain levels worse and ever since they have kept increasing. I kept hoping it would at least stop getting worse and maybe that I’d get better at coping with it. I wanted to be able to do it. Be some kind of normal. My job sometimes helps me mentally, engaging in something creative and focusing on helping customers and giving the best service I can. It takes my focus outward which I’ve long believed is really important in staying well. The tactile aspects of my work, handling the different fabrics and trying to create attractive displays, can in themselves be grounding and soothing. Additionally, it’s an area where I can try`to do some good and not feel useless. (I know that’s something I need to work on, how connected my sense of worth is with others’ outward perception of me, but I can’t deny it helps for the time being.)

Now I’ve come to the point of crashing completely. In the last 3 months in particular my pain and physical weakness has increased faster. Since around the time of my operation I guess marked a real down-turn physically and it was to be expected really that  my fibromyalgia symptoms will be worse for a while afterwards. Everything is worse really, my back problems (I had a slipped disc years ago), arthritis…

I know I haven’t really talked about it so maybe this sounds weird. Whenever I talk about my physical health I worry it all sounds stupid, nobody would believe me, I’m a fake and I should just get on with it and everything’s my fault. (There’s a lot I have to work on there too, I know.)

I feel like I’ve crashed suddenly. Gradually it has got harder and harder to – move, to put it bluntly…  Getting harder to get through the day….harder to be able to get home, having to sit and rest, and crumpling as soon as I get in, lying down most of the evening… Today I have had to spend most of the day lying down. Pain and shakiness in my legs makes any standing and walking really hard. My legs are cramping and jerking out of the blue. I can’t feel in my right foot normally and at the same time the pain is really bad through my lower back and hips, worst on the right… I’ve had all this before although not as bad, but I am very scared right now. I feel scared and shaky and lost and so tired. I slept a lot today too. My support worker came this morning and I was so tired I was struggling to literally get words out.

So I find myself admitting again that I am probably going to have to leave this job. The physical deterioration from trying to meet its demands is too much. I have tried to look into reducing my hours but it does not look as though this will be possible. I;d have to massively reduce them in any case. My manager has been kind and understanding in her approach but has to follow the sickness absence procedures set down by the company. Since I have been off sick 4 times within a 6 month period, this is flagged as a problem. I can well understand that it is not fair to colleagues to be off too frequently and I know myself that I am struggling more and more with daily tasks, which is increasing my anxiety and in turn my psychotic thoughts and my fears about what colleagues are saying and thinking about me and making it harder to cope with the hallucinations and all the mental struggles of every day.

Outside of work the effect is great too. Not only are the pain and mobility problems an issue, but I have no energy or coping resources left to manage day to day tasks like keeping my house clean, keeping in touch with people, doing positive things to bring a balance to life outside work, or perhaps most importantly right now, giving the energy to therapy and recovery that I need to. The months I have left with the PD service are precious and working on making use of my individual and group sessions is demanding. I want to be mentally “present” for it, not shut off protecting myself because I’m desperately trying to cope with pain and utter exhaustion.

I’m going to be referred to Occupational Health so I await to see what they will suggest.

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I also have to follow my doctors’ and my support worker’s advice. I believe they would all prefer me to reduce my hours. My support worker definitely thinks so.

The one thing that ironically, in a twisted way makes this situation possibly not quite so bad, is that I may actually not be worse off financially working fewer hours or not working at all. I want to talk about this more in a separate post shortly. It’s a bizarre situation that doesn’t sit well with me. At the moment I am struggling in pain and making myself physically worse every day, working part-time, earning just above the minimum hourly wage.  I receive less than £10 per week help towards my rent, I am not entitled to any help at all with things like council tax*, and although I was initially assessed as eligible for a small amount of tax credits, this decision has now been changed and I have been told that I am not entitled to any.  Now, I strongly believe that it is morally right to work as much as I can and not to expect to receive handouts when I could be earning myself. However, what I cannot get away from is that on my current earnings whilst I am working as many hours as I can (well, I have to admit now, more than I can) I cannot live. I do not have enough to cover basic bills and simple living costs and I would not be getting by if it were not for regular help from my family and even occasionally my very good friend who has lent me money for grocery shopping when money has been tightest.

Not only can this situation not go on – I am over 30 now and I simply cannot go on needing financial help from my dad; I have to support myself – but the cost of this job physically is just too much to go through to still not be able to live. It is painfully ironic that because if I were not working or were working fewer hours, for example for a few months or so whilst I complete my therapy, my financial situation would actually be more stable because of the greater help I would get towards rent and living costs. That makes me really really uncomfortable and it isn’t right. Yet I have to be able to live.

It isn’t the main factor that has led me to this point. If I were coping physically I would keep going and if I could I would see if I can increase my hours. But I’m forced to accept that just isn’t so and physically things are not good right now.

I feel really worn out and vulnerable right now. The last time I was so low physically, about 7 years ago, I didn’t feel so afraid or sad. I wonder why that change has come. Perhaps I feel more responsible now. Perhaps I am sadder about potentially leaving my job because there are aspects of it that I genuinely like this time. Perhaps I feel more of a failure that this has happened again.

I need to focus on the good things that could come out of it if I do have to leave. My health problems are not life threatening or anything that serious and so many people are going through much worse, much more medically severe, perhaps without friends to help them and understanding doctors. In moments I can see that there can be ways that in the next few months I can try to turn things around.

I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me. Tonight I just needed to get all this out and admit that I’m scared.

Thank you for listening. I can’t imagine where I would be right now without this blog and the support of you lovely people who read and care and comment. There’s so much more I should say on that. I hope you know how much you mean to me. Hugs xxx

Ginny xxx

(*apart from the 25% single person occupancy discount. For non-UK readers, council tax is a roughly monthly fee payable towards local government spending like policing and other emergency services, refuse collection, some elements of care for vulnerable people, etc. Most working adults pay council tax. The amount payable depends on the value of the property you live in.)

Image not mine, sourced on the ever useful Google – I am afraid I do not know the artist (it says in the top left I believe but I was not able to expand it to read it.

Do you think hope is a choice?

Two things were said to me yesterday which have given rise to strong feelings and thoughts for me.

The first was that hope is always there and it’s a choice and we choose whether to accept or deny it.

The second was that healing of even awful pain is possible but we have to want it.

These statements and what they imply and the thoughts they lead to are very hard for me.

Tomorrow I will post again on this topic. For now I’m really interested to know what you think. Do you agree? What do you think? Do the statements imply particular things for you or give rise to strong feelings?

I know it’s a bit strange without the context but I did not want to cloud the issue with my own strong interpretations and what I felt. Tomorrow I’ll write about that…but first I’m really interested in any thoughts you may want to share in the comments.

Thank you.

Ginny xxx

Walking this Borderland #12: 5 4 3 2 1 steps

A family member gave a women’s wellbeing workshop recently. I wasn’t able to go but I helped her look over some of her materials. Many of the daily challenges she suggested to improve our wellbeing incorporated elements of mindfulness  (in a loose sense at least – I’m not yet very knowledgeable about mindfulness so you may correct me). For example, becoming aware of our emotions, or being curious about our environment, perhaps taking a little time to be present in each moment and noticing new things in places that are familiar to us which we might often pass on “autopilot”, such as the beauty of a tree coming into bloom on our route to work.

I came across The 5 3 1 Technique to improve your daily wellbeing, of which you can easily find various versions online, for example here *. All credit for the idea behind this post goes to that technique. I do not know who first invented it and I’ve seen a couple of different versions.

Inspired by this, I developed my own version, which I’m going to try to practice daily. I’ve called mine simply “5 4 3 2 1” (this being more memorable than 5 3 1, perhaps?!):

FIVE – the original 531 technique suggests 5 minutes of meditation at the start of each day. I think starting each day with meditation or prayer is a great idea but it can be really difficult if you have never done it before or if you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed. I find it helps to give the time more structure, for example, finding 5 things or people you are thankful for and thinking about them for a minute or so each. Or you could write a list of 5 things that happened in the previous day that you enjoyed or are thankful for. I’m Catholic and another way I sometimes do this is to pray a decade of the rosary really slowly. On each bead, I say the prayer in gratitude for a particular person or event, trying to be open to let the thankfulness fill my heart. This can be a good way to calm down when I’m feeling very anxious or a good way to pray when I’m struggling to be still.

FOUR – find 4 ways to connect to the outside world. For instance. … Go for a walk. Write a letter to someone. Pray for someone. In your work or chores, find a tiny way to do something with a little more concentration than normal, or with a little more care than normal. The simplest task done with love and attention has value and grounds you in the present moment, turning your thoughts and energy outwards rather than inwards to anxiety and fears.

THREE – notice 3 things in the world around you that are different or beautiful. It could be something new you’ve learnt, a conversation that made you think, something beautiful in nature, a sensory experience like a soothing scent or touch, and so on.

TWO – look in the mirror and tell yourself 2 good things about yourself. For example: you are beautiful; you are loved; today you are going to help people; you deserve to take care of yourself… (wow, for me at least it’s incredibly hard to come up with these things for myself 😉 !)

ONE – do one small act of kindness for another person. This need not be a big action. It could be simply smiling at them, allowing them to go before you in a queue, or asking them about their day and really listening. Just something to make them feel valued.

All these steps are intended to be small things which all work towards grounding us in the present moment and increasing our sense of wellbeing. I’m giving it a go. ..

Ginny xxx

*I have not followed up all the links on the mindfulness site myself so am not advocating their contents / saying that the techniques or information there will be useful for everyone. I just intended it as a description of the original 531 Technique.

Carers who really care

The doctors and nurses who looked after me when I was in hospital for my operation last week were fantastic. I owe them huge thanks. It was really busy on the ward the two days I was there, probably all the more so because a lot of surgeries had had to be rescheduled from the previous day. From my arrival, they were sensitive and compassionate. I was there because of my physical health but they knew about my mental health as well and we discussed it during my assessment when I arrived. The nurse taking care of me took time to be really aware of how both my physical and my mental health issues were affecting me and to enquire about whether I was getting the help I felt I needed and would be supported once I returned home after the operation.

It was a minor op but still daunting to me. The nurses and doctors’ compassion, communication, availability to answer questions, even simply their general presence, genuinely doing all they could to help, made such a huge difference. One nurse even taught me the instant ice trick!

I wasn’t an emergency, an urgent or complicated case, thanks be to God. They treated so many people in those two days, most of whom I’m sure needed much more care than I did. Yet they still had time for me.

I am so thankful for these people who give so much.

Ginny xxx

Mixed up

It’s a night of confusing feelings. It felt like a strange day from the start as group therapy was cancelled. Tonight I keep nearly crying for no reason. My chest hurts. Feels like there’s a weight under my ribs. Anxiety? I don’t know. I just want a hug.

It wasn’t all bad today. Actually there was a lot of good. I met my friend for coffee. She has a beautiful baby girl, six months old. Baby was in the mood for cuddles, despite not having seen me for a couple of months, and giggled away in my arms. Being loved and trusted by her just made me really happy. With a little baby there’s no room for the second guessing and doubting that comes into all my other relationships (like the voices telling me they can’t stand me really even if they pretend to like me and finding proof all too easily of how bad I’m sure they think I am). With a baby it’s open emotion that I don’t doubt.

It was good to talk to my friend and I realised how much I miss her. She’s special, very astute and empathic and reflective. She is really supportive to me and still so through the fulness of her own life as a mum when she has do many demands and many people might understandably lose touch or be less “present” for friends.

We talked some about how I feel really unhappy with the hospital at the moment. On the way to meet her I’d had another upsetting phonecall with the hospital which I won’t bore you with detailing right now. Talking helped at the time for a little while and stopped me losing it but soon after the crashing guilt hit me, that I shouldn’t have said anything and shouldn’t moan and it’s my fault anyway and that I took up her time and took over the conversation; although I really tried not to and tried to turn the conversation back to her quickly, I worry what if it did. I’m trying to trust she meant it when she said she enjoyed meeting.

Through the afternoon spikes of anger kept hitting me about the phonecall. I kept actively choosing to do things other than self-harm, which did have the one positive effect that I cleaned my flat as distraction!

This evening I made a card for my colleague B’s golden wedding anniversary. Tomorrow evening B and her husband are having a party and she’s kindly invited us from work. I’m very happy for her and it’s very generous of her indeed to include us. At the same time I’m anxious already. I’m getting a lift with another colleague as it’s not really on a bus route, which means I don’t have control over when I can leave if I don’t feel good. I worry about spoiling things for other people. There’ll be lots of people, it’ll be busy, it’s in the evening, I don’t know the venue and it’s the first socialising I’ve done with colleagues outside work (apart from one coffee with someone). All challenges for me right now. I’m trying to just focus on being happy for B. and being warm towards new people I meet. I don’t want to waste all the good of the lovely celebration with my anxieties.

I’m missing N. and feeling very upset with how I left things with her. I’m determined to do something, go to see her, to tell her meaningfully I’m sorry and try to sort it all out but I’m not sure how she’ll feel about me approaching her or if it’s better for her that I leave things be now and don’t try to get in touch if I’d only cause more hurt.

Anyhow. It’s a lot of feelings to sit with tonight. I’m tired and I need to try to be still. Thanks be for tea and hot water bottles!

Goodnight. I’m praying for you.

Ginny xxx

My rescue box – update

A while ago I posted about making up a “rescue box” as a tool to help me cope in times of crisis. You can read more about the principle and how the box helps here and I’d strongly recommend reading that before reading this post. In brief, the Box is a way of putting together in one place, easily visible and quickly accessible, the things that will help you cope when you are feeling bad. For me feeling bad tends to mean very upset, crying, struggling with voices and other hallucinations, and re-experiencing traumatic memories. The Box is not a cure for how you are feeling and is not meant to make the emotions go away. It isn’t intended to be a way to suppress them. Having said that, it is to some extent distraction, and a way to access tools to lower your very heightened emotional state so that you can then be more able to cope, to think, or to avoid impulsive actions that may be harmful to you. The CPN who explained the idea to me recommends it as a tool for BPD sufferers. I would imagine it could help people dealing with a variety of other situations / conditions too.

I promised an update about my box once I had put it together, so here goes. I’m new to this technique and I’m sharing updates as I go along.

I made my Box by covering a cardboard packaging box in gift wrap. I’ve started to stick some pretty things to the outside of it as well – a flower, some Hello Kitty stickers because they make me smile, a few little snippets of encouraging text – and I’ve put a little plastic pouch on top with a pretty card and a message from a dear friend. I’ll continue decorating the box with more sensory, pretty, attractive things and things that have a meaning for me and remind me of good times. I think this increases the likelihood the Box will be in my mind and be an appealing thing. (Half the problem with coping strategies, I find, is remembering to use them when the hard times come – often the distress can be so consuming I just don’t think of how to access helpful tools and techniques! Anything that helps me call them to mind has to be a plus!)

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The contents of the Box is very much a personal thing, of course, as different things will be important to each of us. In case it’s of interest, here are some of the things I keep in mine (you can see them in the picture).

  • A couple of little stuffed animals – I’ll freely admit I am very childish! 🙂 I find them comforting and have quite a collection. To be honest, Bunny is usually next to me on the sofa, not in the box 🙂 and I collect “ty” Beanie owls and my-little-ponies. I guess stuffed toys also give a soothing tactile experience when you hold them, which can be useful for BPD sufferers. As a soothing sensation increases, the unpleasant sensation of very heightened emotion may reduce (again, I explain this better in my earlier post).
  • For similar reasons, a little bottle of scent. It’s soothing and distracting and if you are trying to control your breathing, the pleasant aroma can help you be aware of exhaling and inhaling.
  • A coaster, to remind me – make a soothing cup of tea! Drink it really focussing on the warmth and taste.
  • A special smooth, flat pebble from the beach, which is calming to hold (feeling the cool, polished surface) and which reminds me of the happy day on which I collected it.
  • A CD – at the moment it’s a CD I like with songs that lift my mood. This is a new one for me to try and I’m not sure which way it will go. When I am not in crisis, I enjoy listening to music. Putting on particular kinds of music and even dancing to it (well okay that’s a strong word – bouncing, at least!) can really pick me up. I’m not sure what kind of effect listening to upbeat music when I feel absolutely dreadful will have, but I’ll give it a go! It’s a way of trying to take an “opposite action” i.e. forcing yourself to do something “happy” or good for you when you are feeling sad and bad about yourself. The idea is this may in turn lift your thoughts. So listening to happy music and making myself move around to it might help lift my thoughts and feelings. Equally, at times music that expresses some of the anger or sadness I’m feeling can help as a way of “letting it out”.  I think I am going to trial both and then put together a playlist of favourite tracks specially for times I’m feeling down. Good job I live alone so there’s nobody to suffer for the fact that if I sing along I sound like a mouse with a particularly bad chest cold 😉
  • A favourite book I know well, which encourages me at the very hardest times, and some prayer cards with very short prayers. I can read over passages of the book, or say the prayers in my head, to repeat a hopeful and loving message to take the place of spiralling panicky thoughts, or the voices I hear telling me that I’m evil.
  • A few cards and a pen, to remind me – could I write a note to a friend? I.E., something nice to take me “out of” my own mixed up head, to force myself to do something positive, thus acting against the negative thoughts in my head, and making somebody else happy too?
  • A ball of wool – could I do something creative? Make pom poms? Do some cross stitch embroidery? Colouring?

I’ve tried to include a mixture of things that are happy and soothing of themselves (eg the stuffed animals, the scent) and things to encourage me to do something positive (eg the cards or the music). I’m also going to add to the box some pictures of my family and my close friends and my godchildren, basically people that matter to me, as a reminder of reasons to keep going and all the good things and good times that I can be thankful for – all things that can so easily be eclipsed in times of extreme distress.

So, that’s my Box! I hope perhaps this might be of interest…. I’m new to this and I will post another update about whether / how I find that it helps me.

Do you use any kind of toolkit like this to help you in the hard times? What would you put in your rescue box?

Ginny xxx