My name is Kitty and I moved to Pembrokeshire from Weston Super Mare 4 years ago. I was very unwell with Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, neither of which I believed in, not for myself, but which ate my old life up anyway, to the point of not actually being able to walk at all for a while.
I found this little paper house, my chalet in Goodwick and fell in love with the view of Fishguard Bay. The house is tiny and filled to the brim with stuff I seem to collect in the name of being creative. I have two rescue cats, Emmanuel and Mirabel who provide just the right amount of companionship without letting me get too complacent. My son, Evan, lives in London on a narrow boat with his lovely girlfriend Lil.
Things that make me smile
I tried very hard to stay in work. I had been an advisor for a number of charities and then with social services in North Somerset. It took about two years to let go because I loved what I did and met so many amazing people. I am someone who has to be busy but I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue to work in a conventional way, with hours dictated by someone else, so I became self-employed when I came here.
I set up Pembrokeshire Online with Suzanne Ashworth and spend a large part of my time interviewing and writing for this. It’s a real-life line for me and helps me feel I am doing something of service still.
We have just been awarded a chunk of money from the Lottery which is so welcome. I am so proud of what we have achieved so far and want to do so much more to continue to serve the communities of Pembrokeshire. Alleviating isolation is a big deal for me.
I have run writing workshops. I make earrings from mainly recycled materials and paint and generally get ‘crafty’. I don’t make much money any more, but I involve myself in all sorts of local projects. I feel it’s important for me to keep learning and trying new things. I always have something in the offing.
I love the sea. I used to dive and then snorkel all over the world, but my health doesn’t allow that now. Normally I would swim all the year round, no matter how cold, but I hit a bad patch last year health wise that I am recovering from, so haven’t felt inclined to get into the sea for a few months now.
I will often go and sit and watch the sea in all her moods instead. Friends are very important to me too and I enjoy the antics of the cats. I hire a hot tub from time to time and I meditate. Meditating in water is fab.
I have come to the realisation that it is the little things that matter most. The big exciting things always come with strings attached and having just celebrated my 65th birthday, little islands of peace that grow bigger when I focus on them are more important than any grand schemes.
Symptoms and triggers of decreased mental/physical health
I have always tended to slip into the dark side. At times I have taken anti-depressants and see their value, though I am working in different ways at the moment. Talking therapy is another life line, but the cost is prohibitive for many people. It bothers me that for many disabled people, isolation is the worst part of their lives.
I have just written an article about swimming in cold water as a way of managing anxiety. It really works but haven’t yet found a swimming group that was willing to address access issues, and it is so much more fun and so much safer when you join with others.
That can be very difficult and while I wouldn’t want non-disabled people to stop having a good time, becoming disabled can mean you get left out…people don’t always realise that they could be more inclusive with very little effort.
I have lovely friends and I manage to keep busy. Unfortunately, in the wider world we could do with some quite basic education around equalities that would encourage greater empathy. I have encountered some quite archaic attitudes in my work and in my personal life.
It has shocked me that so little thought sometimes goes into making venues and activities as accessible as possible, and people can be thoughtlessly cruel, in most cases I am sure, without meaning to be.
I am fortunate in that part of my work was in disability equality and educating about discrimination, so I feel qualified to speak out. But many people just suffer needlessly, and I would like to do more about that.
I have written a little and I try to be honest about how challenging living with disability can be.
There is so much shame about mental and physical incapacity. Shame separates us from each other just at the time when we really need each other most.
It’s important for me to be busy but I try to manage being busy with proper rest. It does bother me that I will push myself too far sometimes because I might feel lonely or bored or just fear that I am being lazy. Don’t get me started on the callous attitude of the state to capacity and wellbeing. BAH!!!!
Managing my wellbeing
I have mentioned swimming and the sea. Meditation is also very important. I have taught meditation and think it’s a good idea not to get too precious about it. Some of us can’t maintain, an upright posture or a straight spine, many of us will never manage the lotus position but we can all manage a moment or two of stillness. Remembering to bring attention to…let’s say, the sole of your foot for a moment can, with a bit of practice, mean the difference between a mental wobble and a full-blown panic attack.
I have a toolkit of rescue stuff that I turn to. I use mantras, Ho’oponopono, guided visualisations, Quaker meetings and so much more. It’s important for me to catch low mood and not let negative thought processes take over.
I look around at my friends and see how hard we can be on ourselves. I think it’s good to celebrate our successes, especially the little ones.
Being grateful, forgiving others and ourselves, they are important to me. If I can apply something from my little bag of tricks before I slide into the pit, it’s so much better.
Sometimes, nothing helps. Sometimes the world just gets too dark and the rottweilers have gathered. Distraction, if I can manage it then is the only way…comedy…radio 4 extra…a chat with a friend and a firm reminder that this doesn’t have to be forever.
I find it shocking how physical low mood can be and how despair can seem the only reality.
The difference between stepping out onto my terrace and acknowledging how beautiful is my view, or stepping onto my terrace and thinking, “so what”, never fails to astonish me. I have and will again seek help when I cannot shake off the “so what.”
In the past I have taken anti-depressants with varying degree of success and think they can be a lifeline…a holiday from hopelessness. However, they are not a magic bullet. There is always insight to be gained and that takes honesty.
I have used talking therapies all my life and have encountered wonderful people who have facilitated my healing. I have also met some therapists who did me no good at all and in a couple of cases, caused me harm.
I am an old hippy…I have done it all…name a therapy and I have probably tried it, but these days I am really wary about who I let touch me, or support me. It’s important to me to take care of myself by having clearer boundaries. Many people are very well meaning but that doesn’t mean they will be able to support me as I need to be supported.
Last year while going through a very bad patch physically and mentally, I sought a counsellor with the intention that I did not want to die with all the distress I was experiencing locked in me. I have looked deeply at my past and its traumas and disappointments and it didn’t feel necessary to do that again.
I found Steve Thorp, a spiritual companion and we worked together on recognising my resources and most importantly, on being kinder to myself. I think we did great work together and would go back to him if/when I hit a bad patch.
I also use acupuncture. My acupuncturist Alice Cousens has really helped me recover physically from traumatic surgery and life-threatening stuff, and her treatments help me feel much stronger both physically and mentally.
.3 things I feel are essential to sustain a positive level of wellbeing
Only three? EEEK that’s hard…so here goes with my top three….
Gratitude is so important. It’s not always possible to get into a place of gratitude but it makes such a difference. It’s easy to focus on what isn’t right. Just bringing my attention to something as simple as the cat coming for a full fat, loudly sucky cuddle and letting my heart open with joy is just so healing. I can feel a sort of smile spread out from her and my heart and lift every cell of me. The light on silver birch leaves, a smile from the woman in the supermarket…stopping and acknowledging those simple things can make a huge difference, if I allow.
Forgiveness. Oh, this is a biggy. Don’t people just piss you off, especially when you are in pain or exhausted? Ha! Ha! I know I can’t be everyone’s favourite person and I can be extremely opinionated (to my shame) but remembering that we are all doing our best is important to me. It is better when that is more important to me than being right.
I use Ho’oponopono…a Hawaiian practice that I came across about twenty years ago. I use it on myself, and on everyone else. It’s really simple, “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.” Don’t say it out loud though…that would be weird. Ha! Ha!
And finally, there is a phrase I came across in a very low time in my life a number of years ago. Depression and anxiety had me gripped and desperate. I found the late Wayne Dwyers book, “There is a spiritual solution to every problem” and it’s the only book, other than text books that I have covered in notes.
In it he suggests these simple two sentences to overcome despair. It has been magical for me when I have remembered to use them… “I want to feel good! I intend to feel good.”
Many thanks to Kitty for taking the time to share her personal experience about physical and mental health with the West Wales community. We hope these stories will provide you with food for thought and inspiration to take positive action for your own wellbeing.