Mental Health Mondays – 4. Living with anxiety

I often wake up with a rock in my stomach. A solid, heavy rock. Sometimes it feels that it’s spinning, other times it’s pulling me down. Occasionally it makes me dizzy or nauseous. Some days it feels bigger, some days I can barely feel it, but it’s still there. That’s how anxiety manifests on me.

I don’t remember when I started struggling with anxiety. I suspect I always had it, since I was a child, I just didn’t know what it was. I was always a worrier. I remember worrying every time an inspector came to school to check us for lice in case I had any and got embarrased in front of the whole school, or whether my skirt was caught in my underwear (this still worries me!). As I grew older, my concerns took various forms and combined with a few traumatic experiences e.g. my ex stalking me for a year or so, emotional abuse etc, I reached a point I couldn’t handle it more than once.

Only in the last few years I manage to cope more efficiently. I just cope, it doesn’t really go away. But even to the day, every now and then it gets out of hand. Only a year ago, I was so stressed I lost my appetite and that gave me sever stomachache. It physically hurt to eat anything. After that, I promised myself I wouldn’t let it reach to that level again.

It can still happen, I know that, but at least I can handle it better. Yoga, running, my guitar, writing, travelling, spending time with loved ones and a lot of me time help me the most.

I’ve written about anxiety many a time:

Heatwaves, pandemic, anxiety and here I am, stuck in the middle.

Lockdown fever (why lockdown needs to end asap)

How anxiety feels likeā€¦

Following my dreams (just need to find out what they are) Chapter 2: Cyprus

(check my page for more) and I’ve been chatting about it with strangers, colleagues, friends, and loved ones for years. I don’t think I’ll ever stop!

Although I had a great week, going to the vegetable and fruit market after many many years, a day at the beach, a few days in Berlin (minus the cruel flight times and the extreme heatwave), the halloumi and anari workshop, and relaxing at the swimming pool afterwards, my anxiety levels have been off the roof as my to-do list grows longer and longer!

Anxiety hits you in many shapes and forms. For me it’s psychosomatic, it gives me headaches and stomachaches and occasionally panic attacks (and insomnia), for others it’s heart arrythmia, blurry vision, nightmares, compulsive eating. Anxiety is a beast, it can cause or aggravate other disorders e.g. OCD and depression and it’s quite common.

According to a 2018 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) report, “The most common mental disorder across EU countries is anxiety disorder, with an estimated 25 million people (or 5.4% of the population) living with anxiety disorders, followed by depressive disorders, which affect over 21 million people (or 4.5% of the population)”.

And based on a World of Health Organisation (WHO) report,In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%”.

So, let’s talk about it, learn how to recognise anxiety signs and symptoms on ourselves and others and help each other. How do you experience anxiety?

Eleni

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Mental Health Mondays – 3. My friend Alexei

Today I want to talk to you about my friend Alexei.

We met back in 2019, on a cool October morning. I had just moved to Reggio Calabria, in South Italy working as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher and I spent my morning lesson planning, then Alexei walked in. I still remember the first time I heard his beautiful, deep voice and Southern African accent, and I saw his wide smile.

Alexei had an infectious laughter and a unique, wicked sense of humour. He loved sarcasm and self-depracating humour. Although he was raised in South Africa, his parents were also Greek and he spoke a bit of Greek too. He loved and cared about everyone around him, one of the most empathetic people I’ve met. We connected straight away.

Despite a global pandemic forcing us to spend half of our teaching year indoors and online we managed to make unforgettable memories together like our long weekend in Palermo, wandering around, shopping, drinking, having a laugh and chatting about life, our random pizza dinners in town, co-presenting quiz night, our beach day in Tropea with the rest of the Reggio gang and many, many more little, every day interactions.

We never made it to Taormina or Pentadattilo together before leaving Reggio like we said we would, but he promised to visit me in Cyprus soon.

We messaged each other every now and then but we hadn’t chatted for about a year. Last time we spoke he was really happy with his new job and life in Vienna.

Suddenly, 5 days ago I saw a Facebook post about Alexei, that I still cannot believe.

He died a few weeks ago. He took his own life.

It breaks my heart to think how horrible and lonely it must have been for him. He cared deeply for so many people and we would all have supported him if he had just reached out. I also feel incredibly guilty I let life get in the way and we lost touch for a while.

Depression kills, and even more so amongst men, since society taught them since they were children that sharing their feelings somehow make them look ‘weak’. Alexei had no issue expressing his feelings and his struggles, he was always open about his life, his sexuality and his frustrations, which makes it even harder to believe he kept all this struggle for hismel and reached a point that life was so unbearable for him that he didn’t want to live anymore.

The reason I’m sharing this story is to remind myself and everyone else to keep in touch and check in with our friends and loved ones regularly and please please, if you are struggling, tell someone, you don’t have to go through it alone.

Alexei’s death was incredibly sad and painful for all of us who knew him and we’ve been sharing photos and stories of Alexei with each other over the last week, because that’s how we’ll remember him, having a laugh together, hearing his beautiful laughter and picturing his gorgeous smile.

Ci vendiamo Alexei, we love you.

Eleni

Mental Health Mondays – 2. Running Out of Mojo

Mojo: a quality that attracts people to you and makes you successful and full of energy (Cambridge dictionary).

What a week it has been. Suffering from COVID (or any other illness) whilst stuck at home, helpless, depending on others to bring you essentials (thank you mamma!) surely takes its toll on you.

I didn’t make it to a work event on Friday or my colleague’s wedding on Sunday. I felt guilty and sad about it, there was nothing I could do though. I had no physical or mental energy left.

My batteries ran out, completely. Walking longer than a few minutes at a time or concentrating on a task requires serious effort.

I’ve been feeling tired, unmotivated and stuck for a while now, and a week at home with COVID only amplified those feelings.

I ran out of mojo and I don’t know how to refill the pot. I’m tired of running around, always playing catch-up, worring about money, never having enough free time to see all my friends, do everything or even some of the things I’d like to do.

I often ask myself lately, why am I doing this? What can I do to feel motivated again? Am I the only one feeling like this?

This pretty much sums up my week. How’s yours been?

Oh, I did make it for a walk in Kaimakli (a Nicosia district, by the borders) on Saturday evening, since there’s a little festival going on (Pame Kaimakli Festival: Urban Playground). It felt great to be out walking about (a little bit at a time), admiring the architecture and chatting to strangers, reminiscing of childhood memories in Kaimakli, the St Barbara church and father Marios, a priest my mum used to take us to as kids I used to love, with his long beard and pony tail, and of course many memories of Kalamies tavern by dad used to work at for years. The festival is on until Wednesday, for anyone interested!

PS Thank you to all you gorgeous, loving humans who messaged not only get well wishes, but sharing how you’ve been through COVID, symptoms you had and super useful tips on recovering. It makes this blog series even more worth it and it gets us all talking about mental health, which is what this is all about!

Namaste

Eleni

Mental Health Mondays 1-Testing positive

*This blog was written whilst suffering from COVID-19 symptoms, therefore some of the text might not make complete sense.

Ever since I wrote about lack of mental health NGO’s in Cyprus and how it’s still considered ‘awkward’ or ‘taboo’ or ‘weakness’ to talk about mental health, I’ve been torturing my mind on how I can promote opening up and talking about mental health, and I thought I’d start small with a weekly Monday special, writing about a topic that came up during the week I had to deal with, or a family or friend went through, or a random chat I had with a colleague or a loved one. I chose Mondays for obvious reasons, since the majority of us struggle with Monday and any stress relief and an opportunity to chat about mental health can definitely help! Mental Health Mondays!

So here’s the first in a hopefully long series of exclusively mental health write-ups. I encourage you to and hope you comment and share your experiences too and suggest topics or even write a guest post. I really want to show with this blog series that we all go through similar situations and we all struggle at points, but also how we look after our mental health in general. So, let’s talk about mental health!!

This week’s topic:

Getting COVID after about 2.5 years of desperately trying not to and how it messes up your life for at LEAST a week.

Monday, 27/6/2022

The week had started well. I went back to the office after two weeks (Karim, my other half broke his foot and I worked from home for a couple of weeks to help out around the house), which was eerily quiet (many colleagues seemed to have gotten the new virus variant) and spent the day organising my tasks for the rest of the week as I was going on a work trip to “The Nymph of the Thermaic Gulf”, the beautiful Thessaloniki , the following day until Thursday. I hadn’t been in years and although I would only really have half a day to wander in the little alleys, huge squares and the seafront, I was quite excited about it.

Tuesday, 28/6/2022

Tuesday was a brilliant, but exhausting day. Karim finally had his MBA thesis presentation (and passed with flying colours!) and the last few months of spending our afternoons or weekends with him studying and me joining him and helping him on the way, finally paid off! But no time to celebrate as I was flying to Thessaloniki in the afternoon! So, after a couple of hours of work, I made it to my colleague’s, Andria, who was joining me on this trip (thanks to super driver aunt Litsa!) and we headed to the airport. We made it to Salonika late at night and after we checked in at the hotel and a quick takeaway souvlaki, we went to bed, knackered.

Wednesday, 29/6/2022

Wednesday started off well with hotel buffet breakfast and after another morning coffee thanks to Andria’s kindness and generosity we headed to our meeting at the University of Macedonia. I keep forgetting how old and often dingy buildings are in cities like Thessaloniki, so it caught me by surprise how horrible the University building looked like. After a 4-hour long meeting and a quick lunch, we finally had the rest of the afternoon off to explore the town. And it was a gorgeous afternoon, visiting the infamous Saint Demetrios kathedral, the patron saint of Thessaloniki, and walking around town chatting along,

which ended with a delicious, albeit heavy feast at a local taverna, my lovely colleague Loizos, who I absolutely trust when it comes to food, recommended, and which I now definitely recommend, Katsamaka. I went to bed feeling I was about to burst from all the food, tired, and with a bit of a sore throat, but I assumed that was due to all the travel, walking and busy schedule.

Thursday, 30/6/2022

I woke up with a bit of a sore throat, but again I brushed it off due to a million other reasons other than COVID. I did a self-test on Tuesday morning, I had no other symptoms anyway and most of people across the Mediterranean are getting ill with all the high temperatures and use of AC, this can’t be the virus.

After a short delay on our flight, Andria and I made it back to Cyprus. Stella, my middle sister was to pick me up from the airport, wander for a bit and then go back to the airport to pick our little sister up, since she was coming back from Brussels for the summer. I asked Stella to bring a self-test with her, just to make sure I didn’t have the virus. In the meantime, my symptoms were getting worse. I felt a bit of a chill and feverish and swallowing really hurt. The test was negative. OK, so it was just a really bad cold. Or that’s what I thought.

By the time I made it home, I completely ran out of energy and I couldn’t swallow from the pain.

Friday, 30/6/2022

5:30am

I didn’t sleep a wink. I kept tossing and turning, I had high fever, my throat hurt like hell, which made me feel nauseous and dizzy, I barely made it to the loo once, or twice during the night. It was the worst night I had in years.

This can’t be just a cold. I haven’t felt that ill since January 2020, and I remember that because I think that when I got COVID the first time, before the global outbreak, when I had a persistent cough and fever on and off for weeks.

I decided to do another test. Sure enough I tested positive.

I had no idea what the process was from now on and what to expect. My mum of course was my first call for support, as she had got it a few weeks before. She told me to message our GP as soon as possible and asked him to call me when he can. He prescribed a syrup and advised me to take vitamins C and D and Nurofen for the fever. He also told me I had to pop to a pharmacy to get tested so they can report me as a positive case.

After barely making it to the pharmacy, I just lied on the sofa and stayed there. I felt rough as hell for the whole day. I was terrified about my breathing and any other severe symptoms I might develop and I was also devasted all my weekend plans were cancelled. No dinner out on Friday, no beach on Saturday, no mountain festival on Sunday. And the sad realisation, that pretty much my plans for the rest of the week would have to be cancelled. I was really looking forward to the kite making workshop!

But none of this really matters. As long as you are healthy. Isn’t that what we all realise every time our health is compromised? Well yeah, but you can still feel rough and miserable and unhappy and of course scared. I could never be sure whether that pesistent cough and fever I had back in January 2020 was COVID, so catching the virus always scared me as I wasn’t sure what to expect. You never know how your body would react, no matter how healthy you are.

Today is day 4 and after a few days of sneezing, coughing and a sore throat, I now lost my sense of smell, which inevitably affected my sense of taste. For those of you who know me, you know how much I love food, so not being able to smell or taste anything is killing me! But I’m OK. Getting better slowly. The medication definitely helps, as well as Netflix, reading, DuoLingo and puzzles! Mentally I’m exhausted. It hasn’t been the easiest few weeks and this was going to be the first one in a long time to have been going out on events and workshops and the beach. So, not being able to leave the house, go for a run, a walk or really do anything is really painful. It’s only been 4 days but it feels like 4 months!

I managed to give the virus to my sisters (well the little one probably got it from the plane), my other half got it from a night out last week and my mum who has just recovered from it is going around our flats delivering supplies! My dad hasn’t got it yet and fingers crossed he won’t, he is the one we are all the most worried about.

That’s my COVID adventure so far. Now I need to lie down again, my energy levels are running low, and the 39 degree heatwave doesn’t help.

Did you go through it? How did you feel about it? Let’s talk about it.

Namaste

Eleni