Shake it off

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I always seem to open these things with “it’s been a while”. But, it’s been a while. I’ve been a little reluctant to write anything as the last time I posted I received a fair bit of disapproval which irritatingly got under my skin and upset me. Bit silly really as we all know posting anything online comes with the inevitability of someone not agreeing, taking offence or getting the wrong end of the stick or in this case a small dose of character assassination.

Now I’ve had time to think about it, it’s quite funny and I’ve shrugged it off. Having someone make judgments about you, your life, your values, your relationships and everything in between because they have read your blog and seen your posts on Instagram isn’t worth losing any sleep over. You’d hope anyone with an ounce of common sense would realise that what anyone puts on online, whether that be on social media or via a blog (even if its the confessional sort) is only a portion of what their life is – it’s a highlights reel.

The notion that you can really know someone, their nuances and their innermost thoughts via a few hundred words every few months is ludicrous. I mean I know there are some writers who can convey it all and be a wholly truthful 3 dimensional version of themselves but I’m definitely not that skilled. So, for anyone to make judgmental comments on someone’s illness, their recovery, their beliefs or their motivations is not only futile but irresponsible and mean (especially so when said individual is supposedly a healthcare professional).

Without wanting to go in to all the details; someone repeatedly contacted me with uncomfortable emails and messages, sent unsolicited gifts to my workplace and then turned nasty because I chose to ask them to cease contacting me. It started off being kind (I felt it was coming from a good place despite being disproportionate to the fact I had never spoken to them or had any contact) but because I didn’t respond it quickly turned in to the ramblings of a bitter scorned ex lover berating me and painting me as a selfish fraudulent bitch. Sound familiar?

The fact I am female and have spoken about being lonely made me easy prey. You’ll have to forgive me for saying that because I really don’t like playing the “it’s because I’m a girl” card and bringing it down to gender but I don’t think this would have happened had I been a man. There was a constant notion in his communications that I didn’t know what was good for me, that I needed saving and that he was sacrificing things for me and I should be grateful – because you know every single female should fall at the feet of any man who pays her any attention when she’s lonely.

I don’t need someone to tell me why I have depression or why I have anxiety and how easy it is to get rid of if only I do this or I do that and how I’m being selfish not getting better. I don’t feel I need to justify anything about my mental health to anyone least of all someone I don’t know and someone I have never spoken to. But just to clarify; I haven’t spent the last 10 years “suffering” and not trying to help myself, I’ve been through various forms of therapy, I take medication and I talk to people. I have managed to hold down a full time job and live a relatively “normal” life which let me tell you is no mean feat when you just feel like giving up. I try to be a good daughter, sister, aunt and friend and give something back but I’m not going to list every good thing I have ever done to vindicate myself after someone’s vile comments.

Of course I’m no saint and nor do I claim to be but you my friend do not have the right to have a go because I didn’t want your advice on how to “cure” my depression or your gifts. Nor do you have the right to make assumptions about what anyone needs or wants from me. Up until this point I have had nothing but positive feedback and support on my blogs and that’s what I’m going to choose to focus on.

Yes I am a hopeless mess at times but why I would I want to hide that? Mental health problems far too often go undetected because people feel too ashamed or embarrassed to divulge how they are really feeling. And here’s an idea, if you don’t like what I write, you could always just, I dunno, how do you say it…….fuck off?

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Decisions, decisions, decisions

black and white decision doors opportunity

 

It’s Sunday night and unlike most of you I’m utterly thrilled that the weekend is over and that work beckons in the morning. I’ve told you this before, but weekends have become a ‘thing’, and these last two have been quite grisly. And before you give out a massive sigh, no this is not another blog about being the ‘loneliest girl in the world’, this one’s about being the most indecisive girl in the world.

So weekends, yes, I don’t particularly enjoy them, I’m not sure I ever really have when I think about it. Yes, the not having to get up early is nice but the lack of routine and structure they administer leaves me in a right old tiswas. The fact I could be doing absolutely anything I want, leaves me in sheer panic as I seem to have lost the ability to make a simple decision. Give me a life changing, groundbreaking decision and I’m fine, I can weigh up the pros and cons and come to a decision with little deadlock, but ask me to make a seemingly cinch decision and I’ll tie myself up in knots, deeply procrastinate and throw in a panic attack for good measure.

Last weekend it was choosing a supermarket that put paid to any sort of ‘nice weekend’. I spent, without a word of a lie, two hours, debating which store I was going to go to. Was I going to go to Sainsbury’s and have a look around the homeware? Or should I go to Morrison’s and stick to my fierce new year new me budgeting? Or should I stop wasting money altogether and walk to Aldi? But if I go to Morrison’s I’ll have to pass all the sociable cool people having brunch along the Rye, what if I see someone I know and I haven’t washed my hair or put any make-up on….and so on and so forth it went. In the end I had exhausted myself with all the ridiculous scenarios (I mean who on earth ever sees anyone they know in London?), that leaving the confines of the flat felt like an almighty task, so I settled on going to the Tesco Express at the end of my road and didn’t leave the flat again until Monday morning.

Friday nights are usually cordial; I’ll leave work on time, pick up something nice for dinner, have a bath and throw myself on the couch with Netflix. I’ll have a think about how I’m going to spend my weekend – I’ll vouch that I’m going to do something constructive (like tidy my wardrobe and take all the stuff I don’t wear to the charity shop) and something cultured (visit a museum or art gallery or see a film). I’ll always go to bed on a Friday night thinking that I’m going to make the weekend count, that this is going to be the weekend where I stick to my plans and get out there and do stuff…..and of course that rarely happens.

This Saturday was no exception – the indecisiveness reigned supreme. I was going to go to the Saatchi and have a walk through Battersea Park, mooch around the shops and maybe catch a film. No, actually I was going to go to see an exhibition at the Natural History Museum and walk through Kensington Gardens. Actually on second thoughts I’ll go central and pop to the RA and head to my favourite Picturhouse Central. But what will I see? Where will I have lunch? I need to stay on track with the healthy eating. Actually, should I not just be going to the gym? It will save money and I’ll feel good afterwards. But I could do that on Sunday. I really need to hoover. Perhaps I should just stay home tidy the flat, do some washing and then go to Peckhamplex. Oh but the times don’t really work…..and this went on and on until I caved in and decided that I was just going to stop trying to fight it and would just stay home and watch Netflix – by this point I was drained, my heart felt like it was about to beat out of my chest and the worst headache had descended.

Today however I’m glad to say that I had a small victory when it came to the indecisiveness and apathy – I got on the bus with the Southbank in my sights and had a lovely walk. I mean don’t get me wrong it took some doing, and all the while I was thinking of what I should be doing and where I should be going and whether the two mile walk was enough and whether I should go in to the Tate or not etc, but I did it. It felt a bit uncomfortable, it felt a bit panicky and I wanted to flee a fair few times but I did it; I made a decision and I stuck to it.

It feels really silly writing all this, it seems so utterly incredulous that I can have such meltdowns at the weekend over such trivial things. But I do and I’m sure I’m not the only one (please tell me I’m not?!). I know being ‘indecisive’ is common and that it’s often an excuse for laziness and disinterest but that feeling of not being able to make a simple decision is quite debilitating, the more you try to make a decision the more difficult it becomes and the more you ruminate. I’ve heard quite a few people with anxiety and depression talk about it but I always thought it was an exaggeration and not really a thing; but the last few months have definitely changed that perception.

The funny thing of course is that it all somehow gets washed away come 6.45am on a Monday morning when I get out of bed and start the working week once more and put on the ‘I’m in control’ mask.

“Morning Michelle, how was your weekend?”

“Good thanks, you?”.

Thank u, next

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My favourite picture of 2018, Ravello

It’s the last day of the year and 2018 has been quite the year. It was always going to be a memorable one but turned out not to be for the reason I had planned. Funny old thing life isn’t it? There have been incredible highs and unfathomable lows but here I am at the end of it; a bit battered, a bit bruised but having learned many lessons and looking ahead to the next 365 days hopeful, as we have to.

You see, when you make a life changing decision, an unpopular life changing decision, a decision that not only changes your life but the course of someone else’s, it’s painful. There are always people who get it and people who don’t. Judgements will be made and sides will be taken. It’s inevitable. I made a seemingly rash and precarious decision that was messy, traumatic and unfair – people were hurt, and it’s only right that being the one who did that I should bear the consequences. But blame aside, I also lost a hefty chunk of my world this year and given I didn’t have many people in my world to start with, it was a very significant loss and harder than I ever imagined.

I’ve been lonely. There’s been times where I have felt like no-one in the world understood me, that no-one in the world cared and that everyone hated me. I’ve had nights where I have drunk myself in to oblivion to silence the sadness, I’ve had nights where I have sat on the floor and drawn blood to numb the pain and I’ve had nights where I have allowed people to make me feel like I am completely worthless just to feel anything at all.

Yet from all that self-serving desolation has come many positives too. What I lost in friends and acquaintances I reaffirmed in other friendships and started some new ones. I invested time in things that I had forgotten about and people I had let slip by. And this post is for them – the cast of thousands (not actually thousands) that got me through what has been one of the worst years of my life.

1. Family

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We can’t choose them. But if we could, I would still choose this motley crew to be honest. Despite being geographically far away they are always there for me. Always checking up on me, always reassuring me and more importantly always showing me love. It’s not easy reading some of the stuff I write, especially for my parents but their unbridled support always means the world to me.

Mum, now you’ve got an iPad your regular dog pics really do make my day and always remind me, even if I’m having the worst of days that you’re there. Dad, your never-ending DIY support and mouse proofing skills are second to none and you’ve made the transition to living alone so much easier, teaching me how to fix things and whatnot.

Paul and Matt, my brothers. You’ll both hate it if I write anything too gushing about you, so I won’t. But just know that you’re both the best and I feel extremely privileged to be the annoying middle sister. Shout out to my sister-in-law Gemma, here too – you’re the sister I never had and knowing you’re back home keeping an eye on everyone makes being so far away that little bit easier.

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And last but by no means least, my darling niece Cara. What can I say. You make everyone’s life so much better. Your smile and laugh provide pure joy and being with you, fills me with so much love I think I may burst.

2. Miley

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Yes, my dog gets her own bit and if you’re not a dog person, you should probably skip this one. My faithful best friend. Everyone knows that dogs are great, but there’s something innate in Miley that just knows how to read people and how to give you exactly what you need. The unconditional, unwavering love she shows me is one of the things I treasure most in life. Always by my side when I go home, her calming, soothing nature is better than any therapy session.

Special mention to my brother’s dog Annie here too; the playful pup whose lust for life and titbits always raise the biggest smile.

3. F.R.I.E.N.D.S

You’d be forgiven for thinking that I don’t have any friends but I do, honest. My longest standing and most treasured being Jess who I have known for 30 years now. We’re very much the polar opposite of one another – she’s blonde, tough, and confident and has always been fiercely independent and strong. I’ve always admired her tenacity and courage, having been thrown many curveballs in her life. Whereas some people would have been dealt those cards and hardened to life, she did the opposite and became the biggest beacon of kindness and goodness imaginable.4

She’s always been there to pick me up (quite literally when I used to faint all the time at secondary school) and none more so than this year. Jess is getting married in March and I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for her to be there for me, a friend who has called off their own wedding, when she is excitedly preparing for her own. But she has and I’m so very grateful. I just hope it’s not too late and I can help be there for her in the next 3 months and not miss out on all the precious memories of my best friend’s big day.

Talking of courageous young women; there’s Erika, another of my dearest friends who is also getting married this year. We met fundraising for Mind 4 years ago and have been friends ever since. She, like Jess, is one of a kind. One of those rare people who don’t come around very often. She has had an unimaginably tough year, losing her mum, yet still she has been there with positivity, hugs and gentleness for me. Erika has always just got it and having people like that in your life is ineffable.

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Jema, thank you for all the South London loving, the delicious meals, coffees and listening and Ross thank you for keeping me company during the “drinking months”, checking I got home okay and for all the cups of tea and sympathy. Work isn’t the same without you.

Then there’s all the other people I most definitely consider friends but have been rubbish at keeping in touch with or meeting up with this year. Please don’t ever think I don’t value your kindness in reaching out and trying to get me to do things, it’s never you I don’t want to see. All I can say is, please don’t give up on me, I promise to make good my promises of hanging out very soon.

4. The IT Crowd

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I’ve loved and lost a lot of people at work this year with many going on to pastures new which at times has felt horrible, especially given work is where I spend most of my time and where 99% of my social interactions occur. But there’s a group of guys that are still knocking about that have become my second family. I like to call them The IT Crowd as all but one of them work in IT, but they more commonly go by the names of Niall, Andrew, Ash, Joe and Chris.

Niall, who I have mentioned before, is my boss and probably the best boss you could ask for – caring and funny, but more importantly Irish. Andrew is the Bill Nighy of the team, a fellow red who shares a love for all things Manchester and music. Ash is the snappy dresser baller who likes the finer things in life, Joe likes to ply us with Krispy Kremes and Chris who is much like a younger brother constantly arguing the toss but annoyingly endearing with it.

We all sit together and as cheesy as it sounds, it makes work so much more enjoyable. Yes you come to work to work but given you’re here over 8hrs a day there has to be some fun too. We all have a similar sense of humour and take the piss out of one another and it’s nice. We all try to look out for one another and I know they have my back, which can sometimes be rare in a work setting.

I’m not a lover of Christmas time but these guys made it a lot more fun and dare I say it I ended up enjoying it. Ash arranged little surprise breakfasts and lunches, we all mucked in for the office Christmas party and had some evenings in the pub. I felt part of something and for the first time in a long time I didn’t feel alone.

5. Cyber friends

I wasn’t sure what to call this one, but I wanted to say thank you to all the people I have chatted to online, whether that be via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or email. So many people have been in touch off the back of various things I have written or been part of this year and at times it has been quite overwhelming. I haven’t been able to reply to as many people as I have wanted as sometimes it’s hard to know what to say but it doesn’t mean I haven’t appreciated it.

The Internet and social media gets a lot of bad press and yes it can be absolutely abhorrent and soul-destroying at times but there’s also a lot of kindness out there. Sometimes a simple tweet or a comment can really turn a day around and there have been many of those occasions this year so thank you.

6. Miscellaneous

Probably the least affectionate label for you all but I had to settle on one as otherwise we would have been here all night.

There have been a few occasions this year where I have had fun, yes I said it, I have had fun, and that would not have been possible without some great bands and great event organisers, so this one’s for you. All Points East and Festival No.6 provided some much-needed frivolity as did Arctic Monkeys at the Manchester Arena. It’s only when watching my favourite bands like The National that I really feel alive, carefree and understood. The respite they provided from a tiring Summer was invaluable.

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I’d also like to thank Italy. Yep, I’m thanking a country now, well more specifically a city; Naples and the adjourning Amalfi Coast. I fled to the arms of the ocean earlier this year on the weekend where I should have been getting married for my first solo trip. And I could not have picked a more fitting place. So scenic it stirred so many things in me and helped me fathom so many things out – it will always hold a very special place in my heart, as will the Italian tour guide who waltzed  me around the piazza in Ravello whilst singing That’s Amore.

There’s also some people who came in to my life this year for a short while and are no longer in it for one reason or another. I always think that this sort of thing happens for a reason, and that certain people teach you things at a certain time and it’s only with hindsight that you realise it. That’s definitely been the case this year. One person in particular taught me a great deal about myself and I’ll always be very grateful for that.

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And a thank you post could not be complete without a huge thank you to Mind. The work I have been part of with you this year has undoubtedly helped me through. It’s opened up so many opportunities for me to talk about so many things that I feel passionately about and allowed me to feel pride when I have had very little else to feel proud about.

…..and with that I’m going to wrap this up as it’s becoming a bit of an essay. I guess the point of this was to say THANK YOU. Thank you to everyone who has been there for me this year. I’ve not been an easy person to be around, I’ve not been a reliable person and I’ve not always been the nicest person so those who have stuck around, your medal is in the post.

Ultimately, we are all trying to do our best, sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we don’t act the way people want us to, and sometimes we appear mean when actually we are just trying to get by. I like to think that none of us go out of our way to be unkind or hurt people, we’re just human – flawed and vulnerable but basically, all in this together.

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy 2019.

The most wonderful time of the year….

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I don’t know how it happened but Christmas is here again. I’m not quite sure I’m over the last one to be honest, but here we are. As you’re aware it’s not really my most favourite time of the year, in fact it fills me with dread and I feel terribly guilty for not really liking it  anymore and that makes me hate it more. That said I’m managing to get away relatively unscathed this year – it’s the 17th of December already and I have only had to go to a work’s Christmas party, that I organised, so expectations on how jolly and festive I have to be have been pretty low this year.

I’ve not been feeling too great the last couple of months. Whether it’s the changing of the seasons and the dark nights that’s to blame I’m unsure, but things sure have felt a lot harder than usual. I started the year having made a huge life decision and in search of my independence and I found it for a little while. I went on my first ever holiday alone and I felt confident in my new life. Fast forward to now and I’m feeling anything but confident. For the last couple of months, I’ve barely seen anyone outside of work. I’ve spent most weekends alone in my tiny little flat and not been able to muster the energy or inclination to do anything. I’ve had to cancel plans with friends and trips and it’s left me feeling somewhat withdrawn from the world. The weekends have become a bit of a ‘thing’. Whilst I look forward to them in so much as they’re a welcome break from work, the vast emptiness they provide has become problematic. In fact it’s not even the emptiness that’s problematic, it’s the everything-about-them that’s a struggle. Even if I make plans, I barely go through with them and then beat myself up for letting people down and retreat a little further.

The thing is, it’s never that I don’t want to see people. It’s the stuff that comes before it. It’s the rigmarole of over thinking everything and putting pressure on myself that sometimes makes it impossible to leave the flat. And there’s been a lot of that recently. I hate myself for using this massively overused cliché, but I feel I have lost myself. I don’t really know who I am, what I believe in, what I like or what I want to do. I feel like I’m drifting (and now I’ve got Travis’ Driftwood in my head). I feel like somewhere along the way I have become someone I didn’t really want to become, someone I don’t particularly like very much and someone who is becoming a little hardened to everything.

I sort of know why the latter happened  – it was a bit of a fight or flight moment, this time last year. For a short time I thought  one of the most important people in my life had died – I spent half an hour in this otherworldly place where one of my biggest fears had materialised – and I never was the same again. Thankfully the fear wasn’t a reality but the change in me was very real. It’s almost like I went to the very depths and subconsciously decided that I could never ever go back there so had to toughen up. So the majority of this year has been spent, trying to be tough and get on with life. And it now feels a little like all the sadness and fear has caught up with me and I’m caught in a tsunami of emotions.

I feel like life is passing me by a little. I want to start living and feeling things, I want to be able to look back on my life and think that I didn’t waste it being sad or just locked up in my flat all the time, too scared to embrace everything that’s out there. Because maybe that’s it. Maybe this loneliness and sadness is actually fear. Fear of meeting new people and fear of new experiences and fear of feeling okay again. There’s a large part of me that doesn’t believe I deserve to be happy or to be liked or loved by anyone and maybe that is the key to why I am feeling alone. Perhaps it’s far easier to sit and write about being lonely than it is to be brave and try to make those connections with people.

I throw myself in to any sort of relationship, be it romantic or platonic. I get emotionally invested at the drop of a hat and easily part with my deepest darkest secrets in an attempt to show people I’m open, honest and trustworthy. Sometimes it pays and everlasting friendships are made and other times I come off looking like a needy bunny boiler. Mostly the latter. But to me being open and making myself vulnerable comes easy; if I feel something I’ll say it without really thinking about the consequences and I’m not afraid to tell someone how I feel even if it’s not reciprocated. The problem being though, perhaps that can be quite off-putting and overbearing for some. Perhaps going head first with the feelings is weird for most people. Perhaps that makes me quite uptight and not fun to be around as I’m constantly thinking “what does this mean?”, forensically analysing everything and therefore in need of constant reassurance. I long to be someone who can float around making new acquaintances and not constantly on the look out for someone who is going to get me and deeply understand all my nuances. It’s unrealistic and puts such high expectations on people.

Maybe we spend time cultivating the friendships that are never meant to last and ignore the ones that could be what we need. When I look back on all the cities I’ve lived in and all the places I’ve worked and the shared houses I’ve lived in, I always think of certain people who I wished I could have spent more time with. It’s only now with the ability to look in to people’s lives through things like Instagram that I realise they were actually the ones I had most in common with. Same goes with university – I see so many people with such a good group of friends from their uni days, arguably our most formative years, and I wish I had strived to keep stronger, lasting relationships with the people I met. I was too concerned with my first proper love interest to realise how important those bonds were and how important they would become later in life.

Maybe next year I need to try to reconnect with people; throw away the fear and the self-judgement and see what happens. Here’s to going for that drink or coffee and seeing what happens, being spontaneous and living a little.

Read all about it

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I’m sat on a train with a very long journey ahead of me (albeit with a dog at the end so very much worth it) and I thought I would finally write this post that I’ve been meaning to for weeks. So here goes.

For anyone unlucky enough to follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’ve been harping on about loneliness for a few months now. It all started with an article in Refinery 29 which garnered quite a lot of attention resulting in various media requests including radio interviews, online and print interviews and a documentary. As well as all the media interest, I received a litany of emails and social media messages from people all around the world empathising and telling me about their own experiences of loneliness. I won’t lie, it felt good. I was incredibly flattered that people wanted to talk to me and had took the time to get in touch. Rocking up to Broadcasting House multiple times and sharing a lift with Martina Navratilova was very exciting, especially given working at the BBC had always been a childhood dream of mine. Seeing my face on the front of the BBC News website was definitely not something I had ever envisaged, but there I was. My followers multiplied and as someone who always thinks everyone hates her, it was nice to have an inbox full of people saying nice things; it was quite the buzz. But of course once the adrenaline wavered and the insecurities crept in, I was left feeling like the worst person in the world again.

Here’s the thing, talking about being lonely when you broke off an engagement is hard, talking about being lonely when you have a supportive family is hard and talking about being lonely when you have friends is hard. Feeling “lonely” is an incredibly difficult thing to articulate – it’s a complex emotion that can be both pronounced and intangible, it can be both floating on the surface and deeply rooted, manifesting itself secretly. Yet society’s understanding of loneliness is somewhat two dimensional and flippant, a notion perfectly summed up by a message I received on Instagram “there’s no excuse to be lonely in the 21st century”.

Whilst I feel very privileged to have been given the platform to talk about loneliness and unpack some of the misconceptions, the truth is on most occasions, the narrative has been written for me and they just needed soundbites to fit their story. It was never my intention to focus on, what I feel, are the very superficial aspects of my loneliness – being in my 30’s and being single, but that’s seemingly where the story is for most people. I was featured in a celeb gossip magazine this week, and whilst I agreed to the story, I was incredibly disappointed by how they portrayed me. They didn’t necessarily lie but they packaged what I said in a really basic way; leading with what I said about not wanting to date casually or have a series of one night stands to cure my loneliness and more annoyingly they used the word FOMO, which I categorically would never use! Of course I shouldn’t have been shocked given the nature of such publications, but it made me feel embarrassed and fraudulent and gave the impression that I’m dining out on my relationship status and looking for sympathy.

I’ve only ever wanted to talk about any of my mental health issues to help other people. I spent a long time hiding mine and feeling like a weirdo and what helped me be more open about it was seeing others be open. Perhaps I’ve been naive in thinking that sharing some of these things would help me too, when actually they’ve made me feel worse as I’ve started scrutinising what people must think of me. Deep down I know that it doesn’t really matter what other people think of me and my motivations as long as I know the truth, but I can’t help feeling that in trying to do good, I’ve actually diluted the message I was trying to get across.

I suppose it all really goes back to something I said in my last post; people find the real truth about mental health quite unpalatable. No-one wants to open a magazine or tune in to the radio and hear a girl talking about the weird rituals and routines she has to drown out the deafening silence of an empty flat. Neither do they really want you to talk about how you’ve spent multiple evenings alone in a Wetherspoons drinking double whiskies just so you don’t have to go home. And they definitely do not want to know about how passive aggressive you can become when you crave attention from someone who isn’t replying to your texts. They want you to talk about how you use mindfulness and meditation to calm your crippling anxieties and how you join a local club or start a new hobby to cure your loneliness. Of course these things can work, but not for everyone and we need to acknowledge that. Mental health is messy, loneliness is messy and those of us experiencing it are not always that nice, we behave selfishly and act irrationally and deplorably to try and fill those voids and pretending otherwise and painting us as the victims isn’t always that helpful.

The first cut is the deepest….

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I was horrified to learn last week that almost a quarter of 14 year old girls self harm or have self harmed. I’ve thought long and hard about writing this post as it’s such a misunderstood side of mental health and I’m also very conscious that writing about it is difficult because I don’t want to glamourise it or trigger something for someone. But it’s a side of my mental health that I have never really spoken about in great detail and one which I think needs more understanding and conversation.

 I went through a period of self harming in my twenties when I was at my lowest ebb and the emotions, consequences and feelings it evoked were some of the most complicated I have ever had to deal with. To be in a position where you want to cause yourself physical pain to try and drown out the feelings in your head is not a pleasant one. And not one that should be taken lightly or trivialised.  

Those months of self harming still haunt me now; the all encompassing anguish I felt, the visceral pain and sadness that was seemingly trapped in my head and my body. The only thing that helped relieve it for a nanosecond was cutting. The act of hurting myself and the physical pain acted as a moment’s rest bite and release from the torture inside my head. Because that’s something that unless you’ve been there you can’t imagine. The feeling of claustrophobia from your own mind and thoughts. The never ending conveyor belt of of pain and distress that no-one can see.

And this notion that it’s attention seeking is so misguided and ignorant. People do not wear their scars from self harm like a badge of honour; that’s why we go to extreme lengths to hide them, so no-one sees them and asks questions. And trust me when I tell you that most people’s reaction to seeing those scars aren’t all that considerate and tactful anyway. Society still doesn’t understand self harm and I can’t help but think it’s because it shows a brutal physicality to mental health struggles and is harder to ignore than someone saying they have anxiety or depression because it can be seen and once seen, can’t be unseen. It’s an act that doesn’t conform with the idea that you should just “put a brave face on it” or indeed to the idea that “you don’t look depressed”. It makes other people feel uncomfortable and more than anything,  this is something most people can’t hack.

There’s still very much a sense that self harm is “emo” and the portrayals in the media don’t do much to help with this. How often have you watched a film or a show that depicts someone who self harms as someone who wears nothing but black, has a pale complexion and listens to My Chemical Romance on repeat? I recently watched the HBO series Sharp Objects and whilst I enjoyed it I was irked by their portrayal of Amy Adams’ character. Without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, she’d had a traumatic childhood and turned to self harming. They have her dressed in black throughout with smudged eyeliner and a very unconvincing drink problem – a lazy characterisation I felt. It would have been a great opportunity to draw attention to self harming but show it in a more realistic manner i.e. move away from the outdated stereotypes associated with people who self harm.

The scars on my arms may have faded – but the memories of sitting on my bedroom floor, blood dripping down my arm, feeling like it was the only answer,  haven’t. It will pain some people to read this, but I still think about doing it sometimes when I’m in the midst of a particularly bad episode and the world feels like it is caving in. And probably more tragic is the reason why I don’t – the reminder of a “friend” seeing my arms and proceeding to grab them and say “God you’re such an emo”. The embarrassment and hatred I felt in that moment has stayed with me, never have I felt so inadequate. And that’s what stops me – the fear of judgement from others. 

I am 33 years old, I have a degree, a good job and I like to think a certain amount of intelligence and understanding around mental health. Yet here I am telling you that I still feel like self harming sometimes because life gets that shit. I don’t because of what other people might think. How on earth are 14 year old girls who aren’t equipped with the same insight and life experience, and have so much more pressure from peers, meant to deal with that? 

I Get Lonely Too….

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I seem to always begin these posts with “it’s been a while” and once again, it has. Life gets in the way and all that. But I’ve forced myself to sit down and take stock this evening as the last few weeks have been somewhat surreal.

Firstly as a media volunteer for Mind, I was asked by Refinery 29 if I fancied having a chat about being young and lonely (mainly because I had just turned 33 and anyone calling me “young” was very much welcome). Recent statistics and studies around loneliness have discovered that those who identify as lonely are twice more likely to have problems with their mental health. This comes as no surprise as someone who has wrestled with loneliness most of their life.

I didn’t think twice about doing the interview, not because I wanted the world to know I was lonely and feel sorry for me, but because it’s such a taboo subject and one which rarely gets any column inches. As with most of the interviews I give, I didn’t really think it would garner much attention, but nonetheless I chatted with the journalist and felt happy to have helped.

But as soon as it was published the following day, I started receiving messages – on Twitter, Instagram and via this blog with people thanking me for being honest and resonating with my story. I felt so proud and it’s continued ever since. I’m still getting emails and it’s making my heart swell. It’s so hard to talk about being lonely and the fact people have felt compelled to get in touch is just wonderful. The downside of course being just how widespread the issue is, especially in London. Truth be told, I’ve found the attention quite overwhelming and as yet I haven’t managed to get back in touch with everyone, but I will, I promise. I started out thinking I would meet with everyone individually, but as someone who gets bouts of social anxiety and with the numbers rising, I think setting up some sort of group is going to be the best way forward. So if you have been in touch, look out for an email this week, and if you’re reading this thinking you’d like to join us (nothing formal with absolute zero pressure, just hanging out with some like-minded lonely people), please do get in touch.

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Off the back of the blog, I was very kindly asked by Mind to join them for a panel event at County Hall to chat about the loneliness epidemic. This was a real honour and not something I could ever have imagined being invited to speak at before. With BBC Breakfast’s Naga Munchetty keeping us in check, I was joined by Tracey Crouch MP who has been appointed Britain’s Minister for Loneliness, Claudia Hammond from BBC Radio 4’s ‘All in the Mind’ and award winning filmmaker Sue Bourne who made ‘The Age of Loneliness’. It was a lively debate with all of us bringing our own expertise to the table – something I was really anxious about was being the token “person with mental health issues” but I was treated with such humility and respect and Naga ensured I got my voice heard just as much as the others. The feedback was great and so many people came and chatted afterwards and said they ‘got it’, which is more than I could have ever asked for. My first panel…..done!

And off the back of the panel, I’ve been approached by more organisations to share my experiences and most excitingly, an author who is currently writing a book on loneliness. He’s asked me to submit an open letter to someone struggling with loneliness which is going to be published next year alongside others. As someone who loves writing, this is something of a dream in the making, I’ve always wanted to see my words in a book and if they can be words that could potentially help someone then all the better.

Oh and one last thing, I’m going to be on the ITV Lunchtime News tomorrow (providing I don’t get bumped by more pressing news like the last two times!), I’m in a bit of an anxious state, mainly because I don’t know what to wear, but very much looking forward to shining some more light on another very important subject; antidepressants. Wish me luck!!