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? 

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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!!

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow….

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It’s been a while since I felt compelled to write anything on here and truth be told I’m not really feeling ‘compelled’ to but I’m trying to fill my evenings with more positive activities (read: I’ve been drinking too much) so here we are. And as people keep telling me, writing is cathartic.

It’s been a hell of a few months, and without going in to too much detail, some of the worst days of my life quite frankly. Some brought on by myself and some down to life just being quite unfair and shitty. But I’m not going to go in to that, those of you who know, know, and the rest of you probably couldn’t give a damn so let’s move on to today.

Today was one of those really (pardon my language) fucking awful days. One of those days where getting out of bed was utterly unfathomable as the black dog had a firm grip around my throat and was holding me ransom. And no I don’t mean my black dog Miley, I’d be more than happy to have her to wrestle with, I mean the less friendly black dog – depression. And anxiety. And sadness. And feelings of not wanting to be here. And everything else that comes in between.

Granted it’s not a new feeling but it’s new in the sense that my circumstances have changed and it’s now down to me, and me alone to climb out of that black hole. No-one’s going to come and tell me I’ll feel better if I just get up and shower, or if I eat something or if I try and verbalise what’s going on in my head. There’s no-one here to give me a hug or wipe the tears anymore and I’ll be honest, that’s a lot harder than I could have ever imagined it would be, but that was my decision (before anyone suggests otherwise).

If you speak to anyone with a mental health problem, they’ll tell you that it’s a very lonely place; such is the nature of having something wrong that isn’t visible and that’s so very different for everyone. You and only you can only ever really know what’s going on up there in your head and that’s true for the happy stuff too – we’re all alone to some extent in this life. I guess it’s about learning how to be our own best friend and learning what to do for ourselves when we need someone to be kind.

And whilst this morning was hideous and I still feel utterly depleted; I’m learning. I’m sat here having got through the day, whereas 10 hours ago I thought the world was going to swallow me up and I wanted to give in. It’s the hardest thing in the world when you’re in that tornado of despair and anguish but somehow you do always get through it. And it was nothing particularly revolutionary that got me through, but it was two things that I hold very dear.

My friends and the changing of the seasons (sorry, I know, but stick with me on this, it’s not as bilious as it sounds). I had some very heart-warming messages from friends at work that made me feel loved; one of which told me to go outside and get some air. Now this is always something this particular friend tells me, and I often roll my eyes thinking “he doesn’t understand, it’s not that simple” but today I took heed of his advice and funnily enough it worked wonders. A stroll in the sunshine through the park led me to a patch of crocuses just in bloom, which reminded me of my dear grandma, who adored this time of year when the bulbs came out. And I tried to think what she would say to me if she was here and came to the conclusion that without doubt she would tell me that I’m stronger than I think and that I should try again tomorrow and the next day and the next day and so on.

So, tomorrow, let’s be having you.

 

 

 

Stop crying your heart out….

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I’m sat here in front of my laptop, desperate to cry. I’ve listened to all the songs that always make me cry and yet nothing. I feel like a pressure cooker about to blow and having a good old cry usually helps. But the Sertraline says no.

I’ve always been a crier. Happiness, sadness, you name it; guaranteed tears. And whilst at times it’s been a bloody nuisance (my brother’s wedding for example where I spent the majority of it looking like Alice Cooper), sometimes it’s the only way to get rid of some of the over brimming emotions. The physical sensation of crying your eyes out, for me, is cathartic. When everything is muddled up and hurting inside it feels good to release something, even if it’s only salty water.

When I went through a stint of self harming, it was that feeling of release when I cut my arms that drove me to continue doing it as difficult as that might be to understand. And it’s the same with crying, it’s a release. It might not solve anything and it might leave you with a banging headache but for those moments where you’re able to let go of your emotions, emotions that you have so desperately been trying to hang on to, it’s a relief.

Things have been quite difficult lately and I’ve been trying to steer myself away from the edge. My stress levels feel astronomical as does my anxiety and all I want to do is have a bloody good old cry. I’m sad, I’m scared, I’m annoyed and I’m tired. A good old uncontrollable cry would really help because breaking down and not-coping really isn’t an option right now, there’s too much to do and too many other people to think about.

It’s not too much to ask for is it? The ability to cry? I guess unless you’ve ever been on antidepressants and had them upped so that they numb things even further you might not really have a clue what I’m going on about. But if you have – it’s horrible isn’t it? It’s a weird sensation. I don’t feel like me. I feel like I’ve become a stone-cold heartless bitch. Why did I not cry at the clips on Celebrity Gogglebox for Stand Up to Cancer last week? I’m usually in floods before they’ve even started.

It’s unnerving. Is it me? Is it the drugs? What else are they suppressing? Should I just poke myself in the eye and be done with it?

It’s not right and it’s not okay…..

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It sounds very clichéd, but all I really want to do in life is make a difference and help others. I enjoy seeing other people happy and pride myself on trying to be a nice person (admittedly this is easier said than done at times). I try and be a good daughter, sister, girlfriend, aunt and friend and be there when people need me. Helping someone ignites a real fire in me and helps me through some dark times.

But when I can’t help for reasons out of my control, it’s really fucking tough.

The last few months have been hard. Someone I love very dearly has been going through something that I thought I could help fix, but I can’t. And it’s made me question everything.

I have my own mental health issues and whilst I can’t always practise what I preach, I know how to give good advice. After 7 years of immersing myself in mental health, I know what can help and I know what support is out there. So I should be able to help someone who I know is desperately struggling right? But I can’t.

And why can’t I?

I’ll tell you why. Because the mental health system is a shambles.

Yes I knew it was failing but it wasn’t until I was on the other side of the equation trying to access support for someone else that I really understood how absolutely abysmal it is, especially in Wales. I suppose I have become accustomed to patchy services, jumping through hoops, brick walls and lack of support. Obviously I wish it was better for myself but I know I can cope with it; but it’s not okay when someone I love comes up against unimaginably terrible care. Especially when they fall in to one of the most at-risk categories.

Everyone always bangs on about how important it is to talk and reach out when you’re feeling low. But no-one ever mentions the difficulty in actually getting someone (a professional) to listen and do something when you do. Plucking up the courage to talk about something so personal when you have hidden it for years should not be met with a door slammed in your face. Yet it frequently is. 4 times to be precise in this case. 4 times someone asked desperately for help and were turned away. Do you think if they went with a broken arm they would be met with the same disregard? Do you think they would be told “there’s nothing I can do” and sent home to fester for months and months, every day getting a little worse? No. Of course they wouldn’t.

To stand by and see someone treated so unjustly is heartbreaking, especially when you know there is very little you can do about it because it’s happening all over the country. I want more than anything to take the pain away but I can’t because the help and support needed to do this just isn’t there. And that’s really hard for me because I have never wanted someone I love to go through what I have gone through, but they are and I feel powerless.

It’s made me feel not only heartbroken but angry. I’m angry the shift that has seen more and more people talking about their mental health has been met with no real improvements to the services available to them. The first crucial hurdle people have to get over when they feel ready to reach out for professional help is getter higher and higher. And whilst I appreciate this isn’t the case everywhere and that it’s not necessarily as black and white as I make it seem; GP’s are failing those with mental health problems. Every time they turn someone away who is experiencing low mood/anxiety etc. they are running the risk of setting that person back a long way and making them less likely to access support in the future. They either need more training or there needs to be a proper referral system where you get seen by someone with a mental health specialism. Or at the very least you get signposted to local services/charities etc. that can help whilst you wait. They should not be sending quite clearly vulnerable people out of their surgeries with nothing.

I try and do what I can to raise awareness and help various mental health charities out but sometimes I really feel like it’s pointless when the system is failing so badly – what is the point in getting people to speak out when the help isn’t there? Of course I know that we have to keep fighting in the hope that something will change but when I’m constantly met with stories of people taking their own life because of lack of support It feels utterly hopeless. Surely there is no stronger indication that something is in absolute ruins when people would rather no longer be here than be subjected to it.

What is it going to take to make people realise that drastic improvements are needed? Improvements that actually make a positive impact on the lives of those people who are being failed every day by our mental health system.

If anyone has the answer, please do let me know.

There goes the fear…..

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I’ve no doubt mentioned this before, but I don’t really drink anymore which means I don’t really go out-out anymore. I still go to gigs and stuff but my days of getting extremely drunk are well behind me thanks to the fact it plays havoc with my mental health and it takes far too long to get back on an even keel.

That said, there are odd occasions where I have the urge to go back to my old ways and have a night of debauchery – and this Friday was one of those nights. My friend Jema and I had it planned for quite a while and I’ve been looking forward to it for weeks. Bands, booze and a dance floor; the perfect night out. And because they don’t happen very often anymore, I really built it up in my head – one night of letting my hair down and just forgetting all my silly anxieties and worries was very much needed and I was determined to enjoy every second.

Thankfully, I did and it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time – special mention to the sublime Yala! Records lads for playing all my favourite indie classics and even allowing me to belt out a bit of Celine Dion. Jema and I pretty much spent the whole night on the dance floor flinging ourselves around in the most ungraceful manner and loved it.

As always I didn’t really adhere to my plan of not drinking too much – double vodkas seemed like the best idea and I dread to think how many we bought (the joys of contactless). The more I drank the more the old feelings of anxiety and lack of confidence came so of course the most sensible idea was to just drink more. I was admittedly very nervous before we got there – knowing it would be full of very effortlessly cool people, (who unlike me hadn’t taken four hours to get ready only to hate how they looked by the end of said effort) but I persevered and everyone was very friendly (of course I felt that I stuck out like a sore thumb all night, but hey what’s new there).

So yeah, alcohol. It’s a real shit. It lulls you in to this false sense of security where you feel more confident under its spell, then it stabs you in the back with a large dose of humiliation and self hatred and you spend the rest of the night tessellating between the two. Oh god did I say something stupid? Did I embarrass myself? Were people laughing at me? Etc. And if that wasn’t enough, it makes you drop your phone and smash the screen!

It’s taken me a couple of days to get over the hangover – both physically and emotionally. Yesterday was a bit of a void and I felt like I was standing on the precipice of  an existential crisis; but thankfully I pulled it back and didn’t completely fall to pieces.

I really did have so much fun and that’s the annoying part – the comedown afterwards. You spend months waiting for a night and then it’s gone and you feel like you’re never going to have fun again.

 

Peaks and Troughs

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I had a shitty day yesterday but today is hopefully not going to be quite so shitty so I thought I would break my silence and write a blog.

The last few months have been tough. The disappointment of not finishing my charity walk hit me hard and has taken me a fair while to compute. Added to that it’s been a pretty intense and emotional time elsewhere in my life too; not to mention planning a wedding, changing jobs and moving house having all been thrown in to the mix too.

Life is full of ups and downs, there’s no denying that, but sometimes I feel like I have zero resilience and am unable to get through the tiniest amounts of stress and trauma whilst others seem to sail through them. I guess that’s where the problem is; comparing my reactions to others. It’s not particularly helpful.

My anxiety has been through the roof and manifesting itself in a much more physical way. Hot sweats, dizzy spells, nausea and palpitations have all made a return to daily life as has the social anxiety that has plagued me in the past. I go to bed and I awake with this fear that something terrible is going to happen. Every unexpected phone call is met with the sheer panic that it can only be bad news. It’s not a very nice way to live to be honest and pretty damn frustrating as I was starting to think I was over the worst of my mental health issues.

It felt that at 32 I was starting to become more resilient, more confident and more logical about my worries and anxieties. But of course, that’s not how mental health works – we have good times and we have bad times. We have times where we’re able to climb that mountain and times where we’re unable to leave the house. And of course life’s path takes its twists and turns as it does for everyone, and some of those periods take longer than others to pass.

I took the difficult decision of returning to my doctor to discuss the feelings I’ve been having. Not an easy decision as even after 7 years of seeing doctors about my anxiety and depression, I still feel this overwhelming sense of failure every time. I sat in the waiting room with sweaty palms, short of breath and wanting to flee. But I didn’t. I told him what had been going on, the various triggers I felt had contributed and against everything the little voice in my head was saying; asked for some help.

He decided that I had a lot going on which made me feel a little better (someone validating that it’s okay to feel the way you do is very powerful). Talking through the options, we decided that I would increase my tablets and have some form of counselling again. I knew before I went in there that this would be the likely offer given there is no magic wand, and off I trotted with my prescription.

I didn’t tell the doctor but I was devastated. Devastated that the hard work I had done the year before in halving my dose was now redundant. I’d failed yet again. It always feels like the easy option taking a tablet, even though I know it isn’t, but there’s something in me that feels weak relying on a tiny white pill every day. And the fact I was going to be even more dependent on them filled me with sheer anger and embarrassment. But of course I know that there’s limited treatments available and that short term it might help while I’m struggling. So I’m taking them and awaiting a counselling appointment…..although I’ve been told the waiting list is a year.

If I’m honest I can’t really say 6 weeks on that I’m feeling any better as such, all I can say is that I feel a bit numb and vacant. I can’t cry and that’s a problem for me because I am most definitely a cryer and sometimes a cry is what I need, but it eludes me so it’s is a really weird sensation. I guess I could say that they have surpassed my emotions a little in that I feel a bit less, again a weird sensation, and not one that I can really say I’m wholly comfortable with, given the long term implications. But for now, I have to give it a go. I have to do something. And this is something.

My other something is throwing myself in to wedding planning and organising a really great day for all our loved ones. Granted it has its ‘why can’t we just elope?’ moments but having it to look forward to is a real help as is knowing that everyone is looking forward to it. It’s a goal that I’m setting myself – being well for the wedding and being able to enjoy it without the fear of anxiety getting in the way.