For those of you wondering why I haven’t written a post in ages

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!

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Lessons from the dog that changed my life

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.

Our first meeting

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.

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Tell me a bit about yourself

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…

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Why do we cry?

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!

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Tears

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.

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Psychiatric patients are scared, not scary

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. 

Terrifying.

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.

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Eye can see clearly now

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.

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