25th September – 2 years on….

Hey folks,

Apologies again for the lack of posts lately, just been trying to get myself better! I think I’ve finally turned the corner and am on the mend now, woohoo! Anyway, today’s post is going to be pretty epic, so bear with me, and thank you in advance for taking the time to read this!

Facebook kindly reminded me, that today is my 2 year breakdown anniversary. I wrote the following as my status (and thought it was a good way to start this post too….)

2 years ago today, I was going through hell. A severe breakdown had me floored and I thought that was it for me. I had no hope left and just wanted to die. But luckily I found a doctor who understood me, like no other had done before. He saw my pain was real and did everything he could to help me. I was referred to a psychiatrist very quickly, and also for CBT.
It took a long time, and a lot of hard work, to get through it, but I did. And I’m still here to tell my story.

And this is my story….

It began long before I knew I was unwell; I can’t pinpoint an exact date/time, but it had been going on a long time, I know that much. I was hearing voices and seeing people that weren’t there. I was essentially living a double life, one real, one imaginary. But to me, that imaginary life felt so real, I’d gotten in so deep that I had no idea what it wasn’t real. The main voice/person, was a guy called Benji. He was a goth, like me at the time, and was 1 year older than me. The things that went on are far too complicated to go into here, but it progressed on from just him, to my mind creating his entire family and friends as well. I deeply believed that they were real, and even involved actual real people in the stories. I created on-line accounts of these people, and conversed with others as them. I had a second mobile phone, that I used to text people as Benji. At the time I had no idea what I was doing, but looking back, it’s all so screwed up. I can’t believe how deep I really was with it.

I don’t know why, or where it all came from, other than it was all in my head. In a way, I admire my own imagination, but that’s probably so wrong of me to do that. The whole time I kept it all from my husband; he had no idea what was going on. I feel bad for keeping it from him for so long, and you can’t even imagine how scared I was when I eventually told him what I’d been doing for near on a year. But he was amazing about it, and just said that he wasn’t angry, and that it was all just part of my illness and that I’d get better and all would be fine.

I got so lucky finding a GP that understood me; he saw how real my pain was and went above and beyond to help me. I can’t thank him enough, he literally saved my life. It’s not every day you can say that about someone is it! He got me referred so quickly to a Psychiatrist, and for CBT. (As I said above). And from there, it was a daily battle to get better. Once I was on some medication I realised that these voices/people weren’t real, and I was rather mortified at what I’d done. Slowly but surely the truth came out, and I lost someone very close to me because of it. (Although he’s back in my life now, in a way, so I didn’t lose him permanently). The one I felt, and still do, most bad about, was my sister. My lies had caused her a lot of heartache, and for that I’ll eternally be sorry; nothing will ever make up for what I did. But she was amazing, understanding that it was all because I was unwell, and that I didn’t do it to be malicious or on purpose. I know deep down that I didn’t, but it still hurts me that I hurt her.

Looking back, it all feels so surreal. I didn’t know who I was, or what I was doing. I was completely lost for a while. As I said above, I’d lost all hope and just wanted it all to end. I was literally at rock bottom, I couldn’t get any lower I don’t think. To look at me you could see I was suffering; I didn’t smile, or really engage with anyone. I had a blank expression and just spent a lot of time in my own head, going over everything constantly, trying to make sense of it all. I found a few selfies that I took back then, when the depression was really kicking my ass, and I don’t even recognise myself to be honest. I was just an empty shell, existing day to day. I wasn’t living.

As time went on, and a lot of experiments with medication later, I finally started to turn the corner and parts of my old self started to show again. Then, on April 1st 2014, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder, type 2. I was put on an anti-depressant and an anti-psychotic. Basically a medication to raise my mood, and one to lower my mood, with a view to keeping me on a level plane. The first combination of medications really didn’t work for me, I felt so ill on them, physically, that they were quickly changed. Then something just clicked; we’d found the medication that worked for me. A combination of Sertraline and Aripiprazole. Since then, I’ve not looked back. Over the past couple of years we’ve played with the dosage, I’ve had set backs, lows, highs (manic episodes), and times where I’ve just been on cruise control in the middle, which is a great place to be!

Right now, in this moment, apart from being unwell physically, mentally I’m doing okay. Back in cruise control haha. I can’t believe how far I’ve come to be honest. I found my inner strength and really fought back against my mental illness. It is a daily battle though to be honest. I can never predict how my moods will be, I could go to bed feeling fantastic, and wake up the next day feeling like hell on earth. So far I’ve been fairly stable for a good 6 months now, if not a little longer than that. I lose track to be honest. I just make the most of every good day, and always in the back of my mind, I’m prepared for the bad days too. I know that when they come that they are only temporary, and that I’ve got the strength to get through them.

I hope by sharing my story, someone reading this, feels less alone. If anyone wants to get in touch please feel free to. You can either comment on here or e-mail me directly on – saraphoenix2014@outlook.com

I’m happy to answer any questions, or just generally be there for anyone in the same situation as I was. You’re not alone, never feel that way.

Anyway, time to get on with my day I guess!! Been sat here typing for near on an hour now, so I really should get on with something productive!! Thanks as ever if you’ve read all of this, it truly means a lot. I hope it’s made sense and given some hope. There is life after mental illness; recovery isn’t easy, but it’s so worth it.

Take care, stay strong and until next time….

x Sara Phoenix x


24th March

Hey folks,

Another good day in my world, although am feeling physically shattered!! I went to the gym this morning and did the Legs, Bums and Tums class, and there was a lot of planking type action! So, my arms are now broken haha. I did to my Shaun T this afternoon as well, although I bailed after the first dvd, instead of doing the two that I’m meant to. As I just hurt far too much, and didn’t want to cause an injury. I’m getting good at listening to my body and knowing when enough is enough. I’ve also cancelled the rest of my classes for this week, as I feel doing it alongside Shaun T is just too much, as all but one day for the rest of the week is two dvd’s!

I’ll start my own little gym workout next week, which should be interesting! Have decided to focus on my Cardio at the gym, and weights at home. As I’m still a little self-concious doing weights at the gym! I’ve only got 5lb dumbbells at home, but they’ll be enough, and have a couple of different workout routines to strengthen and tone my arms.

I’m really feeling good about all the fitness stuff that I’m doing though, it’s a positive step in my recovery to be honest. It’s taken a while, but my lungs are now beginning to clear all the crap out as well, as exercise has given me a really chesty cough! It was expected though, so I’m not worried.

Mood wise I’m feeling great, just need my body to catch up with that feeling! I’m not quite sure how I’ll get through the moves at Rock Choir tonight, it will definitely be a challenge! But I’m never one to back down from a challenge! 🙂

Today was CBT; it was a good session, and I’m feeling a lot more positive about tackling my OCD demons! We spoke about the goals that we set last session, and how I’ve done with those. Really well in actual fact! This will probably sound daft to most of you, but I can now open the mail without having to wash my hands afterwards! It’s a big step for me, and something I’m really proud of, no matter how daft it sounds! I’m also using less hand gel when travelling to and from town/the gym. Which is another big thing for me. It’s in my bag, kind of like a safety net, but I don’t reach for it at every given opportunity like I used to. Another big step in my fight, and something else to be proud of.

Overall, I’m feeling really proud of myself full stop just now. I’m fighting my OCD demons, I’ve jumped head first into fitness and loving it, I’ve quit smoking and I’m taking control of my diet. I’m impressed that I’ve not gained any weight since quitting smoking too, that’s definitely a good feeling. I’m trying to take every day as it comes though, and make the most of every minute. Life is too short to be worried about germs! Screw you OCD!

Anyway, that’s it from me for today, I’m going to take a nap before hubby gets home from work; a little pick me up before choir!

Thanks for reading folks; take care, stay strong and until next time….

x Sara Phoenix x

23rd March

Hey folks,

My arms feel like jelly…. haha. It’s a good feeling, because they’ve been worked out hard today.

I started my day with my usual Shaun T fun; today was Total Body Burn for 45 minutes. As the title suggests, it’s a full on workout, that works out your entire body, not just your abs. I love it though 🙂
After that, I had my breakfast and got ready for the gym, as I had a class booked. Pure Fat Burn, for 30 minutes, with 2 PT’s, D and J. That was INTENSE! J’s warm up was mental, and I was flagging afterwards, before the rest of the class even got going haha. Over the course of the class we did – burpees, push-ups, sprints, lunges, squats and jumping jacks; by the end of it I just wanted to lay on the floor…. haha. Good workout, but my goodness it was hard. D text me shortly after to make sure I was okay and to say I’d done well 🙂

I left pretty swiftly after the class to get the bus home, luckily didn’t have to wait long. Then had lunch and a nap(!) before tackling the housework. I’ve not long sat back down, and just want to sleep to be honest!

Mood wise I’m feeling really good though, have done all day. Must be all of those endorphins! Got another class booked tomorrow – Legs, Bums and Tums! 🙂 Not sure what to expect after today’s crazy-ness. It’s with a different PT though, one I’ve not met yet, so could be fun! I’m looking forward to it 🙂 Will do my Shaun T in the afternoon this time, as getting a lift into town with the hubby in the morning, so I don’t have to pay for bus fare haha.

I’ve got session 7 (I think… or might be 6), of CBT tomorrow, and I’ve not done the mindfulness and meditation at all! I have however gotten a lot better with my use of hand gel 🙂 So that’s a positive step for me. Only used it once today!! I’m making progress, and battling my OCD head on. I refuse to let it get the better of me any more.

Anyway, it’s nearly dinner time so will call it a day for this post. Thanks for reading as always, means a lot.

Take care, stay strong and until next time….

x Sara Phoenix x

11th March

Hey folks,

Been quite a chilled day today; even CBT felt really relaxed too!

I did my workout this morning, then had a lush hot shower before breakfast. Am trying to get into a routine of working out between 8am and 9am, ready for when I start going to the gym! Getting my body used to it basically 🙂 I’ve purchased some gym clothes, trainers, a bag and a water bottle, so am all set! I’m ridiculously excited for some reason haha.

CBT, as I said, felt really relaxed today. We spent the time discussing my goals that I set last session, and how far I’ve gotten with them so far. For those of you new to my blog, those goals were:

  • Buy/use less hand gel.
  • Not wash my hands after opening the mail.
  • Go out with friends/other social activity (such as Rock Choir).

So far…. I’ve not bought any more hand gel, and haven’t used quite as much as usual!; I’ve used the delay technique to manage to make it to 30 minutes after opening the mail before washing my hands; and I’ve attended Rock Choir twice this week! I’m definitely making up for lost time there!!

So all in all, my goals are going well so far. We’ve created a “Fear Ladder” this week, with things on it that cause anxiety for me. My task is to accomplish as many levels as I can before our next session, which is on 24th March. Here’s my ladder (1 being relatively no anxiety, up to 10 which is severe anxiety):

  1. Stay at home alone
  2. Go for a walk alone
  3. Go for a walk with someone
  4. Go to town alone
  5. Have someone visit my house
  6. Go to town with friends
  7. Go for coffee with a friend
  8. Visit someone else’s house
  9. Not take my hand gel out with me
  10. Travel a long distance on my own.

They may not seem like very big things to the ‘normal’ person, but to me it causes me varying degrees of anxiety, and I’m not 100% sure why or where it’s come from. Over time it’s gotten worse though, the more I’ve avoided doing certain things, the more I worry about them. It’s mostly a germ phobia I think, and I wish I knew just how to switch it off so that I can just live life like a ‘normal’ person! Am beginning to confront it though, with the help of R and CBT, so hopefully I’ll be able to manage it better and not let it control me so much.

It feels like I’ve achieved so much this year already, and it’s only March! Was thinking earlier, how well I’ve done in the past couple of year too. For example, I’ve conquered alcohol addiction (2 years, 2 months, 1 week!), I’ve conquered self harm (11 months, 3 days), and I’m currently conquering nicotine addiction! It’s been a bumpy road, but I feel proud of where I’m at right now. It shows me just how strong I truly am, and how much I can achieve when I put my mind to something. So I’m determined to conquer my OCD as well, and live life to the full!

I think that’s pretty much all that’s happened today…. oh, I went for a walk this afternoon and practised some mindfulness 🙂

Yep, that really is it now haha. So, thank you as always for reading; take care, stay strong and until next time….

x Sara Phoenix x

20th February

Hey folks,

I’m so very tired today. More so than usual, and I’m not sure why. I only woke once last night as far as I know. Which shouldn’t be affecting me this badly. I’ve barely been able to keep my eyes open all day.

I struggled my way through CBT this morning; when R asked how I was I told her I was really tired, so I think she went easier on me today! We did dig up some stuff from my past though, which kinda sucked. It does seem though, that a lot of my recent issues do stem from events from the past, such as being bullied as a child. It’s quite interesting to get her take on it all, and makes a lot of sense. Especially regarding my low self esteem. A lot of that stems from being bullied I think. We’re going to work more on that next week, as we started to make some real progress with things in today’s session.

Ah man I’m so tired. Am really struggling to focus on what I’m typing; and have a headache, again! Getting sick of constant headaches now. The last few days I’ve had one every day. I’m thinking about going to see a doctor about it, as I’m worried it’s my blood pressure. Last time when it was up I was getting a lot of headaches.

Apart from CBT this morning, I’ve not really done a lot today. Just not felt up to it. All I’ve wanted to do is sleep. I had a bit of a nap earlier on, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference to how tired I’ve been. I managed to vacuum some of the house though, so I was a little productive. I did most of my housework yesterday, so didn’t have much to do today.

I think that’s pretty much it from me today; am really fighting to stay awake now, so may call it a night an just go to bed!

Thanks as always for reading, take care and stay strong, until next time….

x Sara Phoenix x

13th February

Hey folks,

Most of you that know me personally will know, that I hate Friday the 13th with a passion; I’m not exactly superstitious, but it always fills me with dread for some reason! Today has been a pretty crappy day to be fair, and I’m going to blame it entirely on it being Friday the 13th, so there!

I’ve felt like crap all day for a start; managed to get some housework done before my CBT session though, so that was a plus.

My CBT session was both good and bad. Bad because it was slightly emotional, but good because I worked through some of that emotion and did feel a little bit better by the end of the session. I won’t go into too many details (as it’ll only upset me again most likely) but it was relating to the passing of my dad. I thought I had dealt with the grief of it, but it’s obvious to me now that I actually haven’t. It’s something R (my therapist) and I are going to work on, alongside the rest of my issues! We mostly spoke about my breakdown, and the time surrounding that point in my life. To be honest, much of my breakdown and the months that followed, is a blur. I get told a lot of things and I just don’t remember them happening at all. It’s kind of scary in a way, and feels like I’ve lost a part of my life. A part that I’ll never get back either. We also dealt with, or rather scratched the surface of, my OCD issues. R was trying to get an idea of what my triggers are and what I do when I’m triggered. She’s given me a diary to fill in for the next week, which we’ll go over next session. It’s going to be interesting to actually see what happens and when to be honest. It does mean I’m going to have to make it more of a concious thought though, rather than just the usual automatic thoughts and behaviours. But it’ll give us something to work on, and hopefully I’ll be able to take back control over it and regain some sort of normality with my life. At the moment it does seem to control me a lot, and that bugs me.

After my CBT session I was completely shattered. Such a familiar feeling, from group sessions. But at that point I couldn’t go to sleep, as I was selling my Fitbit to someone. Why I hear you ask! Because it doesn’t sync with my iPhone unfortunately. If I’d gone for the 4S instead of the 4, then it would have. But I couldn’t afford the extra money for that one. I’m looking into other options, such as the Jawbone. That does the same thing, but works with the iPhone 4! Will have to wait a while though, as the money I sold the Fitbit for is now spoken for for something else. Always the way!!

By the time I’d done all that it was lunch time, so I grabbed a quick sandwich. I’ve not been on Slimming World plan 100% at all for the past few days, and it’s beginning to bug me. But I just don’t seem to have the motivation (or the money) to get back on the wagon as they say. I’ve eaten things that I definitely shouldn’t have, and not eaten things that I should have (such as fruit and veg!). But, that said, I’m just going to plod on the way I am for the next few days, enjoy my birthday meal, get weighed on Wednesday, draw the line and start again! So be it if I’ve put on all that I’d lost, I’ll just have to deal with it and move on. Yes it’ll suck, but that’s life I suppose…. I did weigh myself yesterday at home, and according to my scales I’d maintained, so it might not be as bad as I’m fearing, but we shall see!

After lunch, and a quick chat with my lovely hubby as always, I napped for most of the afternoon. Had the most random and vivid dreams though; not quite sure where they came from and I couldn’t make sense of them at all. I guess it’s my meds at work there, it does happen from time to time (when I do sleep properly that is!).

Right now I’m feeling proper sick and tired; so I think I’ll call it a night on here and chill out for a bit. Going to watch Frozen with the hubby, then go to bed and hopefully sleep well!

Take care one and all, stay strong! Until next time….

x Sara Phoenix x

CBT Summary – Moving Forward

Hey again folks, last post for today I promise!

This one will deal with moving forward and dealing with setbacks! Probably the most important post of the course!

We find that writing things down, helps the process of recovery. I’ve definitely found keeping my blog has helped my recovery. It builds like an action plan to move forward, so you’re able to plan ahead for those times when those pesky negative thoughts creep back and become problematic again.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) helps you to become your own therapist. Through this course, you will have developed an understanding of some of the reasons behind your distressing thoughts and emotions, and begun to practice techniques to overcome them.

Dealing with setbacks

Fluctuations, plateaus and setbacks are very normal and an important part of progress; as such, they need to be expected and prepared for. In this way, it is less likely that you will catastrophise if and when they occur.

Dealing with a setback can actually help towards making further progress. I’ve encountered a lot of setbacks this past year; but each time I’ve come back stronger than the time before. It’s amazing how many times a setback can actually be a blessing in disguise.

An idea that I picked up at CBT, was developing a “coping card” or “crisis box”. I have a crisis box for times of struggle. In it I have a letter written to myself, reinforcing that everything will be okay and that the pain is temporary. Also, I have a list of positive quotes, my positives book, my feather and anchor painting (with the words “I refuse to sink, instead I’ll learn to fly”) and some little gifts from friends. It acts as a way of reassurance, and if I’m struggling, it can put things back into perspective for me.

It’s also important to remember the following things:

  • At the very earliest stage, in which the mood starts to spiral downwards, it is not the mood that does the damage, but the way we react to it.
  • Out habitual efforts to free ourselves, far from freeing us, actually keep us locked in the pain we are trying to escape.
  • Trying to “fix” and get rid of the problem of depression can serve to dig us deeper, like struggling in quick sand.

So sometimes, it’s about acceptance, mindfulness, compassionate understanding, noticing and letting go.

Make a wellness plan; prevention is better than cure. Spend some time considering what makes you more vulnerable (triggers), and what you might notice if you start to feel depressed again (early warning signs). Writing down what has helped as instructions for your future self, will help to build confidence that if the depression kicks off again – you know what you can do to help yourself.

Old habits do die hard! Your negative core beliefs and the negative thinking and behaviours which go with them, may re-emerge, particularly at times when you are feeling stressed, low or unwell.

The important thing is, don’t worry. We expect this and you now have the skills to break the vicious cycle. It’s simply a case of going back over what you already know and putting it into practice again. Anticipating and planning ahead can help ensure the changes you have made will last the distance. Forewarned = Forearmed.

Identify your triggers. These might include lack of sleep, excessive stress or physical illness. A setback can be frustrating, trust me I know! But being aware of the situations that can lead to it, can help you to cope better. Early warning signs can be physical symptoms, emotions, an increase in certain thoughts, or changes to behaviour patterns. Make a note of what changes you may notice, that will tell you that your mood is dropping.

Please remember, that altering the way we feel about ourselves does take time. It doesn’t happen over night. There may be ups and downs on the path ahead, but what is important is that you now have the tools to deal with these. Lasting change will require an ongoing commitment to all the changes you have made and the things that you have learnt.

It’s been really useful refreshing my memory of CBT techniques, and I’ve definitely been using some of them this past couple weeks. It’s amazing what your brain retains really, as I think I’ve been doing CBT without even realising it!!

Anyway, that’s all from me for now, I think I’ve earned a rest after my epic posting today!! I hope it’s been useful and will help you with your recovery. I would suggest seeing your GP to see if you can get referred for CBT, it really does help a lot.

Thank you for reading as always, and hope you all have a fantastic Christmas!!

Until next time…..