I think this picture explains why I haven’t written anything. I am having the most wonderful time teaching little Eddie the ways of the world. I promise I will write again soon!
Tomorrow I have my last official visit from the wonderful Ruby. Over the past few months so much has changed, and I will admit that lots of people, medication and hard work had a big part to play in that. But this post is dedicated to the dog that has completely changed the direction that my life is going in.
When I first met Ruby, I hardly had a life at all. I did not leave the house by myself, I had no confidence in myself, and I was struggling to find a reason to keep on living. I could just about speak about how I was feeling, but I had made no real progress in therapy, mostly down to a lack of motivation to bother getting better. When you hate yourself so fiercely, it can be very difficult to see that you are worthy of all that effort. I felt like all that the mental health team were doing for me was increasing my medication, and I had absolutely zero ability to visualise a future beyond recovery.
I learnt how to take her for a walk, and brush her beautiful coat. I worked on strengthening my voice; dogs don’t listen if you are too afraid to raise your voice above a whisper. She leant against my leg so I could stroke her during therapy sessions, and made me laugh when she beckoned me over for a cheeky tummy tickle at inappropriate moments.
She was always happy to see me, and her eyes were not full of the usual cocktail of sympathy and awkwardness. She only had room for love and happiness, and she was bursting at the seams with it. She gave me something to look forward to in my life, and she got me out of the house – alone! But I never was alone, because I had her.
She became my something to talk about; people don’t want to hear about your crying and therapy and over-sleeping, and yet they still ask what you have been up to. Well meaning it may be, perhaps even a panic response to the fear of a real-life depressed person, but it never gets any easier telling people that you have done nothing worth mentioning. Except now I had Ruby to talk about. And everyone loved to hear about Ruby, and admire adorable and crazy photos of her.
Like all dogs, Ruby lives in the moment. She doesn’t worry about what she just did, or what might happen in an hour. She cares about licking your hand right now, because it is so fun!!! She wants to grab that squeaky toy, because she likes to play!!! What’s that in your hand, a treat?!!! I love treats!!! I have learnt a lot from her about what really matters in life, and how to be as happy as Ruby you have to live for the moment.
We have been on the bus, we have strode through the country. We have played ball in the rain, and cuddled up inside. She has laid at my feet as a calming presence, and muscled under my arm when I’ve been trying to write. She’s done tricks, she has licked, she has nestled and played. Ruby will always have a special place in my heart.
My confidence has grown so much that I feel able to look after a dog of my own. Eddie the whippet is arriving on Saturday, and so I will have a lot of fun and chaos to come! It’s not goodbye forever for me and Ruby, she will visit occasionally and show Eddie how to be a good boy. She will never know the gratitude that I have for her, but she is happy enough without knowing.
I have just sent off an application… I don’t want to say what it’s for and jinx it. But that means coping with the usual awkwardness and frustration that comes with attempting to describe yourself in a positive way.
I find it incredibly difficult to spot positives in myself. It has caused a lot of panic and despair over the years when I’ve been asked to write a CV at school, or written my personal statement. I am aware that this is difficult for a lot of people, since we are taught at school that we can always do better. Many of us are simply not used to acknowledging our strengths, and so when we are asked to identify them by the very people who are telling us that we are not quite good enough, it makes for a very confusing situation.
For the first time in my life, I genuinely agree with the positive qualities that I have identified on an application of this type. I had a lot of help and encouragement, but ultimately I was the one who decided what to write and how to word it. It took a long time to tease it out of me, and my first attempt resulted in a lot of tears. That doesn’t matter – the point is, I can recognise and believe all the points that I have written down. This is massive for a girl who was convinced that a conservatoire gave her an offer in the audition room as a joke, and sent an email confirming a scholarship by mistake… (No, really. I’m afraid there is no exaggeration here.)
Reading it back is a completely different experience to before. The words used to sit empty and lifeless on the page, a flimsy façade for the “real”, terrible, useless me. I was writing because I had to, writing what people expected me to write. Never ever because I believed that a single positive quality was true. I should clarify that had I been asked to write it alone (as in without someone to bounce ideas off, nobody wrote it for me!) I would have probably become frustrated and given up, before writing another meaningless statement of qualities that I knew were seen as desirable. I cannot recommend this method enough, as physically saying the words out loud to another person meant writing them with a lot more conviction than was previously possible. It takes a lot longer, and feels uncomfortable, but at the end you have a piece of writing that you genuinely believe to be true. So hopefully I will be able to walk into an interview without feeling like such a fraud (I hope).
I will let you know how that application goes. Meanwhile, I will be here refreshing my emails…
In my last post, I shared my sneaking suspicion that I wasn’t the only person in the world who regularly cries. Turns out that I was right. So here are some of the stories I received, some sad, some down right ridiculous. To anyone reading this, please never be ashamed to cry. You are definitely not alone.
I just cried in my last therapy session and I didn’t even know why. I just burst into tears talking about everyday things.
One time I needed my dad to get me a salad before I went to a concert or something and I properly described the one I wanted and then he bought the wrong one and it was disgusting and had loads of mayonnaise and I cried in the car.
I last cried when I was dealing with past childhood traumas, which I had to let go of some guilt and hurt I was feeling that was not my fault.
Last time I really cried, when I was really tired and was putting out the washing onto the airer with my husband, he teased me about how I was hanging it out, and I burst into tears. Over a t-shirt!
OMG I feel like your most recent blog post is for me. I cry at absolutely everything (and nothing). And when I start… I can’t stop. It can be seriously embarrassing. I think the most recent was earlier this week when I was talking to a friend on the phone. They were talking about ordering a takeaway and I was getting some serious food envy. So much so that the tears started rolling down my cheeks (silently thank god!). My defense is that I was tired and stressed. But it happens more often than I care to admit. Luckily no-one saw me that time, it’s happened at work before in response to the slightest bit of criticism. Other times I cry without knowing why!
Sometimes I get into bed, curl into a ball and cry myself to sleep… for no good reason
Great timing, I literally just cried today! I’m now doing a masters in Law, and it’s getting pretty heavy now. Everything just piled up, and before I knew it… I thought I was the only one in the world who was struggling away!
We all cry. I know I do. I’ve got the empty tissue boxes and swollen eyelids to prove it. But it doesn’t feel like it’s OK to cry in our society. We are made to feel like we are the only ones who sit on the bathroom floor, letting the tears run off our red faces. That is not true.
So I’d like to ask your help. Send me a description of the last time you cried. I’d like to make a compilation of the things that get us sobbing, no matter how minor the reason. Reading other people’s experiences may show people that it is a normal and healthy thing to do. It will all be anonymous.
I’ll kick it off with a story about when I last cried. It was today, when someone asked me how I was doing, and I burst into tears. I didn’t realise that I was feeling sad until that moment, and it was completely unexpected. And it took me quite a long time to stop crying. I didn’t have a concrete reason to cry, but it was what my body decided to do. All of a sudden I was pouring out a hundred different reasons that I was not OK. I don’t think that any of that would have even entered my mind if I hadn’t had a good cry.
So be brave, and share your sob stories. Show the world that it’s OK to cry, even if it’s for a ridiculous reason. We really don’t need a reason to be allowed to get teary, and it’s not something to be resisted.
Happy Halloween everyone! I’m sorry if you are rolling your eyes at “another killjoy oversensitive rant” but your irritation is hardly something that I’m going to lose sleep over. Whose joy am I killing exactly? Do you really get joy from dressing up as a vulnerable person and insisting that they are violent and scary? I think that you need to have a long look about your values if that is the sort of activity that gives you joy.
I was having a good day the other day, and I felt well enough to go out. I was feeling positive, and happy, and normal. And then walking past a shop window, I looked up and saw that one of the most prominently displayed costumes was a hospital gown, thoughtfully labelled with the words psycho ward. And I was reminded that “people like me” were something to be feared, objects of disgust and intrigue. Needless to say, it did not exactly make me feel welcome out in the big wide world.
What’s the big deal? I hear you ask. It’s just a joke. But this issue goes much deeper than one night out a year in a silly costume. It’s about children seeing “mental people” portrayed as monsters, in the realms of zombies and vampires. They are mysterious and threatening, and not quite human. It’s about people hearing about horrifying asylums and murderous villains before they are ever told that they themselves could know someone who is mentally ill. It’s about people not knowing the words to describe how they feel, and losing their lives to suicide because they were too afraid of being discriminated against.
There are so many things that you could dress up as. But please, when picking next year’s costume, consider what kind of a statement you are making by wearing that psycho ward costume. Be more original. Don’t perpetuate the stigma. It’s not just a costume, it’s an inaccurate stereotype that is causing deaths. And that hurts more people than any mental patient ever has.
Last weekend, I went to get an eye test. It had been well over two years since my last one (reminder to those of you who have had those strongly worded Specsavers letters – book your eye test!!!), and I will admit that I had been putting it off for some time. Not out of laziness (hmmmm maybe a dash of laziness), not because my eyes have not got worse, not because I don’t like going to the opticians… But because I knew that they would ask me that question.
Most of you are probably confused about what I am referring to. It is a question that most people answer with as much ease as recalling their name and date of birth. But to me, it is the question that I dread, that I actively avoid to the point that it’s embarrassing… What’s your occupation? It doesn’t seem so bad. I know that they only ask it to determine how much time you spend reading or staring at a screen, I know that it is not a search for shameful secrets. And yet I still do feel shame. A lot. Even though I am in the situation for reasons that have nothing to do with my personal qualities or abilities or determination or value as a person. And even though it is just a few seconds of “er… Well I’m not working at the moment… No I’m not a student either… Ummm… I’m not very well so I’m not actually in work or education”, it is the source of weeks of anguish. What if they ask me what my illness is, and then react unsympathetically at the news that I meant mental illness? What if they ask so what are you doing? What if they just think critical things about me? It’s too much to cope with. And so for a long time, I simply avoided having to cope with it.
So what changed? Well for starters, I had noticed that I had started squinting in order to read things. I had also decided that my old glasses didn’t really suit me, after over two years of wearing them. Okay, so those were contributing factors, but I’d like to think that it is mainly the result of me getting braver. Since starting this blog, I have stopped worrying about people finding out about what has been happening recently, and had fewer awkward “so how’s uni?”‘ conversations. I have also realised that most people don’t really care, and that there is far juicier gossip out there. It has taught me that the statistics are true, and lots of people do understand what I’m going through. But most of all, it has made me brave when it comes to telling people “personal” information. Just because it’s personal doesn’t mean that it has to be a dirty secret. Yes, some people prefer to keep it private, but that doesn’t mean that I have to. It has helped to loosen Shame’s heavy grip on my life, just enough to open up about what I am feeling.
No one has ever been criticised for wearing glasses because “you can manage if you try hard”. That is true, but over a long period of time squinting becomes uncomfortable and unhealthy, so it makes more sense to wear glasses than suffer. Now let’s start applying that logic to mental health. Why should I have to work 10 times as hard as my peers and worsen my health, when there is treatment available. It’s illogical to criticise the use of treatments simply because “it’s possible to manage without”. I can manage without my glasses, but since the aid is available I would be silly not to make use of it. People can manage without mental health care, but it is not sustainable, and it makes no sense to endure suffering when there is a treatment available. We could just manage, but I don’t want to manage. I want to excell, I want to thrive, I want to enjoy my life. What is the point in using so much effort to simply manage?
In case you were wondering, they did ask me my occupation. I have got the little speach perfected after a year of reciting it to everyone that asks, and so out it came again. And the sun came up the next morning, the floor did not collapse beneath me, and the optician did not criticise me or shake the walls with a spine-chilling, Disney-villain style cackle. We moved on to the next part of the eye test, and I survived.
People definitely talk about mental health a lot more than they used to. There’s no denying it, and I can understand why some mentally well people are growing tired of being reminded that others are suffering in a way that they are not. I’m still telling people about this because people are still very ignorant of what that actually means. I am not being judgemental of people’s ignorance, because I know what it is like to not have much of a clue about what mental illness really means. I am not angry or disappointed at your lack of knowledge, because we get little to no education on the subject. And so most of us end up learning about it when we are thrown in to a situation and are forced to discover information for ourselves. This is simply unfair. I would like to be able to play a part in preparing as many people as possible for potentially life changing diagnoses, because it is a lot easier than scrabbling for clues in the midst of a crisis.
The statistic of 1 in 4 is thrown around a lot, but let’s think about what that actually means. There is a significant possibility that your future wife will suffer from postnatal psychosis. There is a high chance that one of your children will experience panic attacks. Perhaps one of your cousins is battling an eating disorder right now. Your colleague might have a mental health crisis at work, when you’re the only other person there. Your best friend might never have told you about their post traumatic stress, but that won’t stop it from affecting your relationship. The likelihood of at least one of these scenarios happening to you is very high, and you might not even know about it. You might be faced with one of these situations and not have the faintest clue about how to help or why it is happening, or not even be aware that you are in that situation. Nobody deserves to be in that position, but a little research can make a huge difference to the information that you can draw upon in a mental health emergency.
I have talked about the possibility of you being compelled to support a loved one, but there is still a 25% chance that you will be the one with mental health issues. It never even crossed my mind that I would ever have a meeting with a social worker, or take antipsychotic medication, or have to re-learn how to leave the house alone. I never even realised that the emotions that I experienced were concerning, because I had no idea which feelings were normal or abnormal, or how frequently you had to experience them in order for it to be seen as an issue.
And so it is likely that somebody is reading this thinking yeah but I’m doing fine, without knowing that their unrealistic expectations and negative self-evaluations are having a serious impact on their health. At the moment they are functioning, appearing fine to the outside world, but their dormant low self esteem will not lie dormant forever. Suddenly it will be released, and functioning will become difficult. Relationships will be damaged, and people will be hurt. Nobody will understand why. That person will be seen as “difficult” or “destructive”. They won’t know themselves what is going on. And before they know it they are relying on alcohol to cope with their depression, and they lose their job. They push their family away, and their family are too confused and afraid to argue. They become paranoid, and get into fights. Their mother stops leaving the house, because of debilitating anxiety. She just can’t understand why her child would do that to her. They die by suicide, and their family cannot cope with their guilt, as they ask themselves how did we not see it? They always appeared upbeat despite their temper and irrationality, and ultimately they appeared to be the same cheeky person that their family remembered from childhood. But that has all gone. A life has ended, and changed many lives forever.
Now let’s imagine a different world. One where they are taught to recognise the signs of depression at the age of 11. At 14, they realise how low that they feel, and feel comfortable and confident enough to confide in their teacher. The teacher has been trained in helping students with mental health issues, and refers them to CAMHS. They wait 2 weeks for an appointment, and the teacher rings their parents. The parents are not offended by the suggestion that their child is suffering, because they know that it is a real illness and not a criticism of their parenting. They attend the appointment together, and start to address the tensions and misunderstandings that are affecting the family. They use medication to manage their low mood for a year or so, and gradually start to come off them with the help of their doctor. They find a career that they feel satisfied in, and have two children and a partner who make them incredibly happy. They experience some testing times, but they know how to express their emotions and thoughts in a mature and effective way, and are resilient enough to find a healthy way to cope. They live a long and happy life, and they have a wide influence across the lives of many others.
Education saves lives. We have all missed out on the education that we needed. And so until that system changes, we have to start taking responsibility and educating ourselves. It’s a lot easier to learn information before you are faced with an exam, than to be forced into an unexpected exam and have to work it out for yourself. It’s the same with life. Get in that education about mental health before you need to know about it. It won’t stop the situation from being gruelling and complex and frustrating; but you will be better equipped to find ways of coping.
There is a fantastic collection of information on these websites:
This is going to sound silly, but I had never been told that I looked well until the past year. And I have heard it a lot, from lots of different people. In my head, I answer do I??? I normally awkwardly thank people and remain puzzled for the rest of the day. And so the other day when a friend told me I looked well, I told her about my confusion as to why people kept telling me that. I joked oh dear, what did I look like before?! We had a laugh about it, and she explained that I looked “less tired” and “just happier”. It has provoked lots of thinking on my part, and I have even been looking back at old photos to try and spot when I looked ill and when I looked well. Unsurprisingly I am unable to identify any changes in myself, but it has really made me question what has changed.
Does this mean that taking this year out has allowed me to become well rested enough to appear normal? I’d like to think that it has, as it helps to confirm that taking time out for my mental health was the right thing to do. I have felt so frustrated at myself for what I view as laziness or doing nothing, but maybe it was what my body needed. I am sleeping a lot more, but I put that down to my medication that makes me drowsy. I do have a lot less to be stressed about, and so maybe that is showing in my face. And I suppose I am a lot closer to inner happiness than I have ever been. Can people really see that?
Ultimately, I am suffering from mental illness, hidden deep inside my head. Strangers would not look at me and think she looks so incredibly happy in the same way that they didn’t used to pass me on the street and think she looks terrible (I hope!) But it’s nice to be told that I am visibly improving, even if it doesn’t feel like I am. I will take comments like these as compliments in the future, rather than overthinking it too much. Being healthy is probably my number one priority at the moment, so I am really happy that I appear to be healthy! Maybe I should start listening, and tell myself you know what, you ARE doing a lot better than you were.
Perhaps it’s just a question of confidence and attitude which influences people’s perceptions of me. That would explain my difficulty in spotting any clues in past photographs. Whatever it is, it’s nice to know that my progress is somewhat visible. One of the frustrating things about mental illness is that people struggle to get any clues about if it is a good day or not from your appearance. It also means that it is difficult to see progress, because we don’t keep records of our innermost thoughts like we do with our outermost appearance. But maybe there are some subtle signs, not obvious enough to be noticed during the bad times, but noticeable enough to remember in hindsight.
Here is the latest installment of my guest posts! This is something that I hope will become a regular feature, where those who are not ready to start their own blog get to have a go on mine! You can read more about the project here. If you’d like to have a go yourself then send me a message. Don’t worry about whether you think we are close enough friends or not, I would like this to be open to anyone who fancies it!
The biggest benefit of me doing this is giving a voice to people like the author of the following post. They are not at the stage of their journey where they are comfortable with people knowing what they are going through, and that’s perfectly okay! Being open is what currently helps me, but that was certainly not always the case. Having discovered the therapeutic power of having my voice heard, I am delighted that I can play a part in helping somebody else to put their feelings into words for others to hear.
Putting your thoughts and feelings into the big wide world is scary, even when you do it anonymously. I am so incredibly proud of my guest writer for their bravery, and I really hope that it helps them in their recovery and search for happiness. If you ever decide to start your own blog, or fancy writing a post on here again, I would be delighted to share it. I’m certain that my readers would as well.
Readers, let me know your thoughts, and I will be sure to pass your comments on. Here is the post!
Last January I decided to start a new project. I began collecting everything from motivational sayings to short poems and wrote them all down in my little black diary, with the aim of creating a ‘quote a day’ type book. I ran out of steam around mid-July (365 quotes is a lot more than I realised!) but I’ve still managed to create a wonderful collection of quotes that help to brighten my mood even in the darkest of moments.
I think that this is a really lovely idea and it takes hardly any time to put together – just a quick google or a scan of some books. You can pick out quotes that are personal to you (for example most of mine revolve around self-love and reassurance) and you can make your book as simple or as decorative as you like – express your personality and make it unique to you!
Whether you’re interested in attempting this project or not, I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite quotes that have helped me through some hard times over the last few years. They help to remind me that progress doesn’t always mean going forward – sometimes it’s okay to just stay where you are – and, even if you feel like you’re going backwards, it’s important to remember that setbacks are a part of life and they’re nothing to be ashamed of. Although at times life is tough, with a little bit of positive hope we can get through it. Of course words can’t cure us, but sometimes a few uplifting quotes can help us to remember that life isn’t always bad.
So without further ado, here are some of my favourites!
1. “One crack does not mean you are broken, it means you were put to the test and didn’t fall apart.”
2. “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies within you.”
3. “When it rains look for rainbows, when it’s dark look for stars.”
4. “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”
5. “Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.”
6. “Things are never as bad as you think.”
7. “We acquire the strength we have overcome.”
8. “The secret to having it all is to understand that you already do.”
9. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
10. “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”