Lost Hours

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock (and to be honest I wouldn’t blame you given the state of things), you’ll know that today is World Mental Health Day. I struggle with these “days” a little as you see such an outpouring of support that soon disappears for the other 364 days of the year. Nevertheless it puts mental health in everyone’s faces which undoubtedly helps some of those people struggling access support that may not have done otherwise, so that can only be a good thing.

The theme of this year’s event is suicide and suicide prevention. Every year close to 800,000 people globally take their own life and there are many more people who attempt suicide. It’s the leading cause of death among young people aged 20 to 34 in the UK and it is considerably higher in men, with around three times as many men dying as a result of suicide compared to women.

This has long been a statistic that I find utterly heartbreaking – maybe more so because I have brothers and have seen first hand the difference in how they express their emotions and how differently they are treated in terms of being able to share their emotions purely because they are men. It scares me that there are still such fundamental differences in how we expect men to behave as opposed to women when it comes to matters of the head and heart, the expectation we put on them and how we react when they do talk about things, if they ever do of course.

It should be no more unusual for a guy to speak to his friends over a pint and talk about feeling down or sad than it is for women, but we all know it’s vastly different. It’s getting better for sure, but the statistics still speak for themselves – there’s a huge issue that we aren’t getting to the root of. Of course it’s a complex problem and someone taking their own life is often a result of accumulating factors, circumstances and experiences but the fact it’s so much more prevalent in men is not something we can afford to ignore or something that we can continue to merely acknowledge without actually doing something to help.

In a couple of weeks I’m taking part in CALM’s Lost Hours Walk (20 miles around the streets of London) to support the work the charity do in leading a movement against suicide that shockingly causes 18 deaths every single day in the UK. It’s a charity that I have supported before and one which I believe are doing crucial and relevant work in helping men in particular. They level with men and speak their language and importantly make support and information accessible through various campaigns and partnerships. They don’t just sit and wait for people to come to them they go out there and actively engage with the most high risk areas of society. They’re a bit sweary at times, a bit tongue in cheek and I think this approach to something so utterly devastating as suicide is the best way – people are quite literally dying so there’s no time for niceties and fluffy language, and that’s why I have chosen to support them again.

Over the past few years I have personally seen the crushing effect suicide and attempted suicide can have on individuals and those left behind. It feels like an impossible situation; not knowing what to say, what to do or how to help someone you love who no longer wants to be here is quite possibly the hardest thing you’ll ever go through and of course for the person feeling that way it is equally impossible, all hope lost. But it can be turned around and people can get support and get through it, but only if the support is available, which sadly it isn’t readily for everyone. And that’s also where CALM come in with their helpline for anyone who needs help or is in a crisis.

Sadly it’s too late for some; we all know of many incredible and kind people who have been lost to suicide and it sometimes feels like it’s happening more and more, but we must not lose hope that something can be done, and with charities like CALM helping lead the charge we have to hope that one day those statistics will reduce.

Whilst money isn’t necessarily the answer, it can help by providing more support and I hope the small amount I am able to raise will help a little in some way.

So now for the begging bit; I NEED YOUR MONEY. If you can spare anything I would be most grateful and to be honest a few quid for a mental health charity is going to help someone a lot more this World Mental Health Day than liking someone’s ‘You’re not alone’ post on Instagram now isn’t it? Here’s my page. Thank you in advance.

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Heart v Head

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Remember when I boasted a couple of blogs ago about how something good had happened and that I was going to try and enjoy it as I didn’t know when the wave was going to come and take me again? Ha. That was silly. I should know better than to tempt fate like that.

The wave came, it pulled me under, thrashed me about a bit and now I’m sort of left adrift with no dry land in sight.

Yeah, bit dramatic, you’re right. But I do feel a bit like I may be slightly broken.

There’s a quote that always sticks in my head when I try and articulate how I feel. It’s something Jim Carey said when his then girlfriend had taken her own life. He said she wasn’t made for this world and that she was too delicate to deal with the world and all it threw at her (or words to that effect, I’ve never been able to locate the actual quote since). This is something I completely resonate with, because this is how I feel every single day. I feel everything deeply and I feel completely bound, and sometimes suffocated by my emotions. If I’m sad about something, and that something can be something relatively small or trivial to most, I can’t shake it, I can’t take my mind off it. It’s visceral, it’s all-encompassing and it physically grapples with me to the point where I shake, hyperventilate or am sick.

And it works the other way too. If I’m happy about something, I’m ecstatic and blinded by the happiness to such a degree that everything else feels completely insignificant. It makes normal emotions such as falling for someone very difficult indeed, because it’s all or nothing from the get-go. I open the door and it all floods in. There’s no playing it cool, there’s no “let’s see how it goes” or “let’s take it slowly”. If I like someone I jump straight in and pretty much hand my heart to them on a plate. In my mind this has always felt like a good thing to do, knowing that when I like someone, I like them wholeheartedly and that it’s not likely to change any time soon and I want them to know that. I’ve never thought about how my making myself so vulnerable makes the other person feel and how it may actually put a great deal of pressure on the other party, especially in a relationship in its infancy. I have such a great capacity to love and care that sometimes I suffocate people with it.

Something else which puts a great deal of pressure on a new relationship is someone having something of a mental health meltdown after 6 weeks. Yep, me again. When you’re in pain, you’ll do anything not to feel the pain. And whilst self-harm has been an antidote in the past (and admittedly was for a very short period this time too), what felt like the biggest remedy on this occasion was affection and the love of one person. Having starved myself of affection for a long time, having someone around again to cuddle me, kiss me and play with my hair felt otherworldly and the answer to absolutely everything that had been making me so sad for so long. And the more the depression took hold the more dependent I became on this sole affection and attention. Of course that’s not healthy and not fair on the other person, but when you’re in the midst of it you’re not thinking rationally and you’re much like an addict looking for your next fix. And much like an addict, when you can’t get that fix for whatever reason, you go in to a tailspin and start to lash out. I became quite selfish and unattractively needy and put quite unrealistic (in hindsight) expectations on someone who hadn’t known me very long and who was going through their own stuff.

We didn’t make it, and of course there’s other reasons for that but ultimately in my mind, I made the big mistake of heart over head and didn’t pace myself. I think I lied to myself a little when I said that I didn’t want a boyfriend to cure my loneliness – of course I hoped he would, and he did in so many ways that I’ll be eternally grateful for. Evenings were spent with another person and there was a reason to cook again, a reason to go to the cinema or away for a weekend and so many other things that have felt out of my grasp for so long. And I got completely wrapped up in that feeling – that not feeling cripplingly alone and void every night – and it’s as if as soon as I got it, I worried about losing it again and put ridiculous amounts of pressure on myself (and him) to make things work and didn’t really allow myself to enjoy it. Something which I now painfully regret as I’m sat here writing this putting off going home to an empty flat. Relationships come and go, yes, but the priority should always be to enjoy your time with that special someone and not fixate on the future and the what-ifs. I certainly think it would make the deep sadness I’m feeling about it being over slightly easier if I felt I had given the best of myself, but the reality is I didn’t and perhaps couldn’t at the time, and it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

Honesty is the best policy

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I may regret writing this but here goes. I’m not very well at the moment. I’ve been signed off work with mental exhaustion, which in other words means I’ve had a bit of a meltdown. And rather than write about it in a few weeks when I’m (hopefully) back to feeling something a bit less shit, I thought I would write about it now, in the eye of the storm as it were because we don’t do that very often. And slightly more selfishly, I’ve disappeared from social media and not been responding to many messages so this is also a “sorry guys” to all the people who think I’m being a bit rude.

This is the first time in 10 years of mental health struggles that I have a) taken a significant time off work b) been honest about the reason I’m off work and c) admitted absolutely everything about how I have been feeling. It’s both completely terrifying and liberating at the same time.

So how did I get here? Well it’s been building up over the last month and classically I’ve put every warning sign down to something else; oh it’s PMS, oh I’ve just been doing too much, oh I just didn’t sleep well etc etc etc. When of course I knew it was because I hadn’t been looking after my physical and mental health – and if you ever think you’re going to get away with abusing either you’re mistaken – it always catches up with you, and usually at the most inopportune moment in a straw-that-breaks-the-camel’s-back sort of a way.

My anxiety levels have reached fever pitch over the last couple of weeks. Whereas my anxiety has always fluctuated, it’s been an ever present weight that hasn’t budged. And I don’t just mean a reoccurring worry or the odd sleepless night, I mean heart pounding like it may beat out of my chest 24/7, a constant feeling of breathlessness and lightheadedness and the tiniest change of plan or miscommunication causing an instant physical feeling of a brick being pounded in to my chest and feelings of nausea. And these feelings haven’t abated even when an issue has been resolved or rectified – it’s like I’m in constant ‘fight’ mode with unmanageable amounts of adrenaline running through my body. It has made concentrating on anything nay on impossible, it’s made thinking rationally impossible and it’s made sleeping impossible, despite being completely exhausted.

Another warning sign should have been my recent retreating from anything remotely social. Missed dinners and drinks with friends, cancelling days and nights out, missed gigs and becoming a bit of a recluse at weekends has become the norm again. Granted I don’t consider myself to be a social butterfly at the best of times, but the fact I have a long list of no-shows and cancellations of late should have been a red flag – I know this stuff!

I feel like I have been running on empty but trying to keep it together and spin all the plates. But of course that only works for a short time and eventually it all boils over and you quickly find yourself rendered hopeless, scared and unable to do the simplest of things. The barometer of how shit I feel for me, has always been – am I at the same point I was after my 31st birthday party laying on the bathroom floor crying uncontrollably? And the answer to this question this weekend was ‘yes’, albeit without the laying on the bathroom floor part as anyone who has seen my bathroom will know that laying on the floor would be utterly impossible given its size.

I spent Saturday to Monday alone in my flat basically festering and making myself worse. My boyfriend was away at a wedding, I couldn’t leave the flat, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t stop crying. Everything felt like it was imploding, my life felt like it was in ruins, everyone hated me and I couldn’t see a way out. The fact my studio flat is so tiny too didn’t help as I was looking at the same 4 walls and had nowhere to escape to. Not even my sacred hot baths did the trick. Things unravelled pretty quickly.

I was already due to come back to Wales this week to spent some time with my family but knowing how I was feeling and how I could possibly end up doing something I would regret, I got on a train and came home a couple of days early. And that was quite possibly the best decision I have ever made.

Despite being in my thirties, sometimes you just need your Mum (and Dad, especially when you need picking up from the train station late at night). I poured everything out to them and in true parent fashion they helped me realise than nothing wasn’t fixable and that I would be okay.

I arrived feeling at my lowest and I’m slowly feeling like I’m clawing back some sense of rationality and calm. The peace and comfort being around family can bring when you’re at crisis point really can’t be underestimated. It’s giving me the space and time to reflect on things and to try and think of ways of building my resilience back up again. It feels a bit like I need to build new foundations and stabilise myself a little – not quite starting from scratch, but certainly back to basics. I’m not crying quite so much and I’m even mustering the odd smile and a joke, so there’s progress.

It’s worth mentioning that having noticed a dip in my mood last week and generally feeling unwell physically I went and saw my GP. I’ve been reluctant to do so for a long time as usually they give me the same line and I often come away feeling more hopeless. This time however, having had no joy in getting an appointment I filled in their online e-consultation and was contacted by the surgery the next day with a 20 minute appointment to see a doctor. Having only ever been given 5 minutes maximum it felt like a revelation and certainly helped in being able to discuss things. It resulted in a trip to the hospital for some blood tests to check there was nothing physical underlying. The results came back on Friday and were accessible via my Patient Access app – a superb app but in this instance, the ability to read my results without any narrative probably wasn’t the best. All my tests were normal bar one; an abnormality in my white blood cells. They were too high. And of course the first thing I did was Google it. Never Google it. I had diagnosed myself with leukaemia within minutes because of course that was the only thing that explained it (it isn’t as it could just be down to stress or a virus or something like that). So yeah I suspect that didn’t help with the almighty meltdown that ensued.

But I guess the point of me writing this is to remind myself and anyone else who may be feeling terrible that it passes. It’s hideous and painful and all encompassing but it retreats. It might not happen overnight but there will be a morning when you wake up and don’t feel like hurting yourself and don’t hate yourself quite so much. I feel lucky in so much as this hurricane only lasted a few days and I’m now feeling through the worst, not everyone is that lucky. I still feel incredibly exhausted, anxious and fragile and I know I’m still not well, but I feel I now have that tiny bit of hope that was missing on Tuesday morning. I also have a loose treatment plan having spoken to my doctor and Talking Therapies. I’m under no illusion that it’s going to be plain sailing from here, but I feel like I’m on the right track. And I’m counting my lucky stars to have such a supportive family, boyfriend and circle of friends.

She’s back…

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I’ve been thinking about why I haven’t written a blog in such a long time. Maybe it’s because I was left with a bad taste in my mouth after the Texan’s character assassination. Maybe it’s because I’ve been writing more about music again. Maybe it’s because I don’t think anyone wants to read about me harping on about loneliness again. Or maybe it’s because I’ve turned a corner and started a new chapter. I don’t know, but there’s definitely been a fear of writing again. But tonight, it feels right, so here goes, humour me.

So what’s new. Well I suppose something rather significant to inform you of is that I have a boyfriend (feels very weird writing that). I honestly didn’t think I would ever say that again, but here we are and I’m glad I let down my guard and went for the drink because he’s really great (and has the most ridiculously great curly hair). Now, I think I may have learned my lesson with gushing about people online, and I don’t want to end up getting dumped for ruining his cred (he’s way cooler than me) so that’s all I’m going to say about him.

Sharing that bit of news fills me with anxiety (not just because I haven’t told many people – sorry pals) but because I just know that it’s going to look like I’ve gone against everything I have said about being lonely and not needing a guy to fix it. But here’s the thing, I still wholeheartedly stand by that. I didn’t go on a date to cure my loneliness, I went because I felt ready to let someone in again and experience things with someone. I feel like I’ve done a lot of work on myself over the last 18 months, learned a hell of a lot about myself and found myself in a better place. And that’s not to say that any of those feelings I’ve talked about have gone away, they’ve just been dialled down a little, and in some respects replaced with other feelings and other insecurities. And I’m sure as hell not going to spend my life playing the martyr because I once said I didn’t need a boyfriend to be happy – for the record I don’t need one I wanted one! 

Anyway, you see that’s the thing with loneliness and mental health it never just disappears, it fluctuates. I found myself in a phase where those crippling and debilitating voices in my head that were telling me I didn’t deserve to be happy, that I didn’t deserve to have anyone fancy me and that I was completely worthless were slightly quieter than usual and instead of doing the usual thing of just waiting for them to get loud again, I took advantage, I took a risk, and it paid off.

I’m still having bad days, I’m still having days where getting out of bed is utterly impossible and where all I want to do it press pause on the world so I can catch my breath; but they’re easier when you have someone who makes you smile and knows when to put an arm around you. But of course being in a relationship with someone new brings with it a whole host of anxieties and worries that you had forgotten about (will he still like me after seeing me first thing in the morning? is merely the tip of the iceberg). And that’s something I’m very conscious of (not the morning thing, I’m not THAT vain); letting my past and my anxiety ruin something before it’s even had chance to begin. It takes a lot of energy to fight with your own mind and some days I’m better than others. But being able to be honest from the start and laying it all out on the table has helped and I’m finally in a place where I don’t feel the need to apologise for my mental health. It’s part of me. Yes it’s an almighty weight pushing down on me at times, but it’s also given me so many opportunities that I would never have had if I hadn’t faced up to it and anyone who wants me in their life has to accept that. And I think (*crosses fingers incredibly tightly and hopes not to jinx things*) I may have found someone who does…..

BBC NEWS

I was asked to contribute to a discussion on BBC News around the side effects of antidepressants and how more informed guidance should be given to those using them.

BBC News – Thurs May 30th Michelle Lloyd Antidepressants from Michelle Lloyd on Vimeo.

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?

Decisions, decisions, decisions

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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?”.