Keep calm and carry on

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For any of you who have the misfortune of following me on any social media platform, you’ll have noticed my incessant pleading for money. Thankfully I’ve not fallen on hard times but signed up for another charity challenge. It seems that losing various toenails and damaging my hip flexors last time wasn’t enough to deter me.

This time around I’m taking on the London to Brighton challenge with my friend Nathalie (have a look at her reasons for signing up here she’s one brave lady). We’ll be walking continuously from London to Brighton; that’s round about 60 miles in 24hrs. A doddle, I think you’ll agree.

Whilst I still support Mind wherever and whenever I can, I’ve decided to fundraise for CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) as their fight is one that needs as much attention as possible. It also felt right supporting a smaller charity as I know only too well now that I work for one, how difficult it is to compete with bigger, far more well known charities.

CALM strive to give men an outlet to talk about how they’re feeling. They offer support and information for those men who are struggling and have no-one to turn to or are too embarrassed to speak up. You don’t need me to tell you that suicide rates in the UK are staggering. But what you might not know is that 75% of suicides in this country are men.

Historically men have been told that showing emotion is a sign of weakness – big boys don’t cry. There’s a certain notion that men have to be strong and resilient to be a proper man. These sorts of stereotypes are wrong, their unhealthy and most of all they’re the reason many men don’t seek support when they’re going through a tough patch and why so many lives are lost unnecessarily.

I can’t attest to ever having had suicidal thoughts; but that’s not to say that I haven’t come close. I’ve felt that crippling sense of loneliness, that black hole of resentment and that overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. I’ve teetered on the edge of thinking that no-one cares, no-one loves me and that no-one would miss me. It’s quite honestly the worst feeling in the world and I’m quite certain that if it wasn’t for certain people being there for me and helping me when I plummeted into that huge abyss that is depression I would no doubt have ended up one of those staggering statistics.

No-one should feel like that. No-one whatsoever, but least of all a man who feels that he can’t be truthful for fear of having the piss taken out of him. I have a younger brother who is soon to be 17 and I don’t want him growing up in a society that ridicules men showing emotion. Like many his age, he doesn’t talk about his feelings and it scares me that he would one day feel like he had no-one to turn to. And that’s the reason I’m doing the challenge – to say it’s okay to talk, it’s okay to not be okay and there are people out there that can help. People like CALM.

As little as £7 can pay to man their helpline and save a life. It could be a friend, a boyfriend, a father or a brother. Don’t let them feel alone. Don’t let them suffer in silence.

If you would like to donate and help CALM tackle the problem of male suicide, please visit my page; every little bit really does help.

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Panic On The Streets of London

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I’ve toyed with the idea of writing this post for a few days; the fear of people reading it and thinking ‘get a grip’ always overtaking the want to be completely honest. However, as I’m sat here with 10 minutes to spare before I’m called in for my counselling session, where we will inevitably talk about it, I’m going to share something that happened last week.

I’ve talked about he fact I’m currently undergoing some bereavement counselling to help me namely deal with the death of my gran and the huge sense of loss and sadness it has left me with. Intertwined with that though, is this severe daily worry that something is going to happen to someone I love. Whether that be Tom, my Mum, my Dad or one of my brothers; I’m constantly on edge thinking something awful is going to happen and that one of them is going to die. It sounds awful I know, but these are very real thoughts in my head and any time I get a call I’m not expecting I fear the worst. I have this palpable sense of utter panic and dread that comes over me whenever I see something remotely related to death or loss and I picture losing one of them. In a round about way I know where it has stemmed from but it certainly hasn’t got any easier the older I have got.

With this in mind, I like to make sure I check-in with people. I speak to my mum twice a day to ensure everything is okay at home and like most couples, Tom and I exchange texts during various junctures in our working day. Problems however arise when I get unexpected calls – they quite literally put the fear of god in me. I always assume it’s bad news and enter into periods of shallow breathing and a thumping heart until I’m reassured otherwise.

Last week I was helping to manage a residential conference in Nottingham. As always, when one of us is away, I sent Tom a good morning text and jumped in the shower. I returned to no reply and decided to give him a ring. No answer. It was 7am, he was probably in the shower too. He’ll ring back I thought. I proceeded to dry my hair, persistently checking my phone. Still nothing.

Half an hour passed and I started to panic. Tom is pretty much surgically attached to his phone (he has to be for work), so the rational thoughts of he’s left his phone at home or it’s in his pocket on silent just didn’t wash with me. I knew he just wouldn’t go to work without speaking to me. Something had happened. And then my body went into sheer panic, I couldn’t breathe. My heart was beating out of my chest. I felt faint. I felt sick.

I started visualising him in hospital. I started visualising him run over, electrocuted, unconscious, murdered; you name it, I visualised it. I checked Sky News as I visualised him on a tube in the middle of a terrorist attack. Now, I know all this may sound incomprehensible to some of you but I can’t begin to describe how real it felt. All the while ringing and ringing him with no answer. With every ring, my fear heightening.

I ended up convincing myself that he was dead and that this was the only logical explanation. I then felt the very real pangs of loss akin to those when I had a phone call to say my gran had died – the feeling that I was never going to see him again. There was a very real pain in my chest at this point. How could I get to him? How could I say goodbye? How could I live without him? How could I possibly go on without him? I went from 1 to 100 in a very short space of time and all the feelings of panic and loss I’ve ever felt all came flooding back.

And then the phone rang. And I’m guessing you don’t need me to tell you who it was!

But in a way that didn’t matter, yes I knew he was safe but all those feelings of loss and death had entered my head and weren’t going to budge. And that’s why I wanted to share this with you. I wanted to try and highlight how a seemingly ridiculous worry to some, can actually cause a huge amount of physical and mental trauma that can be felt for days afterwards.

100% Cotton

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A few weeks ago, something spectacular happened; Tom asked me to marry him. I knew it would happen one day, but he caught me totally unawares and it was perfect in every way. The setting. The ring. Everything. And I’m still on cloud nine.

He’s going to hate this post, so Tom I apologise now, but you are, and have been ever since I first met you, my rock, and this ring you have so delicately placed on my finger has only reinforced that.

Like most people, I spent many many years thinking I would never find someone to love me. Feeling like I would never find someone who would make me feel good about myself. Thinking that no one would ever understand my anxiety and depression. Destined to be alone. I surrounded myself with boys who made me feel not-worthy, boys who made me feel, quite frankly, like a piece of shit. And that’s not a great place for a hopeless romantic with little confidence.

There comes a point where you start believing that you’re undateable, unlikable and unloveable and you resign yourself to the fact that that’s just how it’s going to be. I was at my worst in every which way. A mess. Battered and bruised and afraid. I didn’t think I had it in me to feel anything for anyone ever again.

And then I met Tom, and as cheesy as it sounds; the rest was history. My life changed in a split second.

Whilst many people are going to flinch at me suggesting such a thing; Tom has been the single most effective treatment for my anxiety and depression. Having him in my life has infinitely made everything 10000% better. Of course he’s not been able to rid me of all my problems or worries but knowing he’s there makes everything that much easier. Having someone to talk to when you’ve had a bad day, a panic attack or a bad dream instantly reduces the distress. Having someone to return home to at the end of the day is the best feeling in the world when all that you are used to is locking yourself in your room with a Boots packaged sandwich.

Tom gave me a reason to live, a reason to wake up in the morning when I was struggling to find one.

Having this hugely important person in your life inevitably brings with it a whole multitude of worries, because you then have the fear of losing them. And whilst many boys would frustrate at the continuous insecurity, Tom has each and every day helped to instil confidence in me and helped me get to a point where I feel completely secure and contented in our relationship and its future. It’s something that I never thought possible, but he’s done it!

He has this innate way of just making everything seem okay; my darkest days, my worst anxieties, my horrible nightmares…..and I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that.

Never does he get annoyed when I have to cancel plans, never does he shout at me when I can’t get out of bed, never does he tell me to stop being silly when I’m worrying about something completely and utterly ridiculous.

He takes me as I am; at my best and at my worst. He never makes me apologise for who I am or what I am feeling. He strives to make every day better than the last. But most of all he makes me feel good enough.

I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with him and I hope that one day I can be a stronger, happier person as no one deserves it more than him.

Fix you

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If you’ve read some of my other blogs you’ll know that I recently underwent a programme of CBT to try and help me manage my anxiety and depression. The therapist decided that despite 6 years of being told I had depression it might be PTSD that I’m living with. Long story short, she referred me to a bereavement specialist who would see me for more intensive counselling. As we all know, waiting lists for such services are huge so I was told to expect an appointment in 6-8 months.

Whilst it sounds like a long time, I was quite relieved. Weekly sessions are intense especially when you have to go into work afterwards and put a brave face on. It throws up a lot of things you might not have thought about before and for a time it made my symptoms slightly worse; so I was looking forward to a rest from talking about all the convoluted thoughts in my head.

No such luck.

I had a phone call on Friday to say that a space had come available on Monday evenings and it was mine if I wanted it.

This was unprecedented. Never have I been on a waiting list that didn’t exceed the predicted time, let alone turn 6 months into 4 weeks. And never have I been a given a set appointment that meant I didn’t have to take time off work to attend. The stars had finally aligned!

But of course my happiness was short lived as the anxiety of talking about my anxiety kicked in. I didn’t much feel like getting into the deep and dark thoughts that haunt me especially as work is insanely consuming at the moment and fatigue is at an optimum high. Do I really have time between meeting with florists for a fanciful ball and fine tuning guest lists for an event at the House of Lords to be grappling with my overwhelming fear of death on a weekly basis?

Not really. But, and it’s a big but (see previous blog!) this is not just for me, this is for Tom. This is for my family. This is for my friends. And I owe it to them. I owe it to them to figure out why I can’t enjoy every moment with them for fear of thinking something terrible is going to happen. I owe it to them to figure out why I picture them dying and spend a lot of my time worrying about them dying. I owe it to them to learn to live in the present and not be a burden all the time.

So with that thought, I left work today with sweaty palms, a throbbing head and a tight chest. With every bone of me telling me I couldn’t do it, that it wasn’t going to help. Panic engulfed me at the thought of having to once again talk about my parents’ divorce, my gran’s death and my illogical fears.

Yet, as soon as she opened the door and welcomed me with a big smile it all melted away and I purged, cried and purged some more. We might have only spent an hour together, but I feel completely comfortable with her. I feel like I can tell her absolutely everything without feeling embarrassed or silly; I trust her implicitly. Akin to dating someone, I always feel you just know when you know with counsellors. And I know.

She might not be able to fix me or cure me or rid me of all my worries but I’m hopeful that she’s going to help me work through things and learn to enjoy life a bit more.

We can but try.

Does my bum look big in this?

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I did vow when I first started writing this blog that I would try and bring a bit of humour and as yet I haven’t really delivered. So with that in mind I thought I’d write something about one of my biggest anxieties, that is, in the grand scheme of things, pretty ridiculous.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a post about my sizeable backside (translated as; my big arse) and the daily insecurities it brings.

It all started when I read a text a friend sent to another friend at secondary school which said “is lorry arse there?”. Knowing full well they were referring to me, despite their resignation, my complex began.

We can’t have been much older than 12 or 13 at the time and I’d never really given my appearance much thought. There wasn’t the same pressure that now engulfs teenage girls to look a certain way then. But this comment really seemed to light a spark that still burns today as I’m standing here on the train; self consciously yanking my top down for fear of the person sat behind me judging my ample rump.

A chubby, spotty, bushy eye browed teenager I most certainly was but so were all my friends so it didn’t seem to matter. But as soon as I started thinking that other people might be judging how I looked, I ran into a spot of bother.

I went through a phase of fainting and being sick on a daily basis; on the way to school, in school, you name it. I still don’t really know how it started but in hindsight I do think it had something to do with insecurities about the way I looked. I didn’t really tell anyone at the time, but the more I was sick and didn’t eat the better I felt as I started losing weight. And I vividly remember aforementioned friend telling me when I wore a pair of very tight stonewash Levi’s to a subsequent no-uniform day that my arse looked great. God it felt good.

Whilst the likes of J-Lo and The Kardashians have since made big bums fashionable it’s still most definitely something that blights me. It’s sad to think that a part of my body causes such great anxiety but it does and I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of people. And whilst it sounds a bit frivolous, it can at times be really debilitating and tear jerking.

And boy does it make shopping difficult. Everything is judged on whether it makes my bum look big. Even handbags. And don’t even get me started about jeans. It’s nay on impossible to find a pair that fit well on the arse and waist. It’s a true case of first world problems really. Walking also has its problems. Whether it be walking out of room or walking past a group of people. I sometimes hold my breath as the thought of their scrutiny whilst I’m stationary let alone moving is overwhelming. In fact you’ll be hard pressed to find a picture of me where I’m side on too, the fear of ever being captured with it anywhere other than firmly (pardon the pun) behind me, unthinkable.

I mean of course I know that 99.9% of people haven’t given my arse a passing glance let alone a thought and that it’s not exactly on par with Kim K’s but I can’t help but picture that text in my head and wonder whether everyone thinks of me as ‘Michelle with the fat arse’ and instantly sit down or lean against something.

How to lose friends and alienate people…

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about friends and how my mental health has affected my friendships over the past 5 years. It may be an old adage, but the notion of going through a hard time and therefore finding out who your real friends are is a very true one. As anyone who has struggled with depression and anxiety will tell you – not everyone understands it and not everyone sees it as a real thing and this can have a real impact on your friends. Some will rally around you, have the patience of saints and just be there for you, some will shy away not really knowing how to treat you and some, will quite frankly, just be dicks.

My circle of friends has never been huge and definitely  curtailed in the last few years and whilst at the time it isn’t very pleasant and adds to the feelings of hopelessness, in hindsight it was a positive thing. It means I now only surround myself with people who ‘get it’ and people who aren’t going to make me feel guilty for not being up to going out or for cancelling plans at the last minute. Getting out of bed and showering can be hard enough some days, no-one needs the added pressure of having someone take offence and be bitchy when they can’t make it out for a drink.

When I think about my friends and the people that I thought were my friends, there’s always one instance that sticks in my mind. As with most memories I have it’s not a particularly happy one but it is an important one that proved pivotal.

As previously mentioned I had a stint of self harming when I was first prescribed antidepressants. In my mind it started out relatively innocuously, but soon spiralled into something more serious and my arms were in quite a mess. I tried disguising them and hiding them for a long time but the humid Manchester summer made that quite difficult. At the time I wasn’t really seeing many people, I would make excuses and just spend my time at work or locked in my bedroom. As time went on I plucked up the courage to tell some people; people that at the time, I trusted. Weeks went by and I didn’t really do anything, but a bank holiday came around and a friend suggested I go out with her for a few drinks as a friend of ours was DJing. I’m not sure how it came about but I must have felt a bit more confident as I got dressed up and went out; parts of my arms were on show but it somehow didn’t matter. I remember feeling excited, I had some cocktails and was looking forward to seeing people after weeks of being shut away. We went to my favourite bar and met up with some other friends and my friend who was DJing. I remember going over to speak to her, she already knew about everything that was going on so I felt comfortable, and then, she grabbed my scarred arm and said “god, you’re such an emo aren’t you?”.

Everything seemed to change after that one comment. It made me feel like a freak. And I think that was one of the last times I ever spoke to her. I’d sort of looked up to her before that; beautiful, successful and popular she seemed to have it all. She’d always been really kind and I thought she understood, but the expression on her face when she grabbed my arm is something I will never forget.

I don’t blame her for what she said, I’m sure many people said worse, it was more the disappointment and shame she made me feel. It was the disappointment that someone I thought was my friend didn’t see how much effort it had taken me to even be out of my bedroom that night. In fact I don’t really look back on my last year in Manchester very fondly. It was the hardest time for me and the most lonely of times and the fact that I only have one real friend (lovely Lou) to take from it all speaks volumes. When it came down to it, all those people that I thought were friends weren’t and I blame myself a bit for that as I went through a period of just wanting to be in with all the cool people and threw myself into social circles that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable in. But, I’m a firm believer in life being a learning curve and it made me realise that it’s far better to have a small group of fabulous friends that you can count on than lots of flimsy friends who never really give anything back.

If you have a friend going through a hard time and living with anxiety, depression or any sort of mental illness; be kind to them. Be patient and really think before you speak. You can say something in a fleeting second but the scars can still be there years later.

The whole picture

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Today’s been a day for panic and anxiety – nothing new there I hear you cry! But rather than the physical panic attacks or the anxiety about an event it’s been a sheer blind panic about how people perceive me and how I come across online and in my communications; Facebook exchanges/Instagram/texts/Whatsapp/Twitter etc. I’ve painstakingly gone through my interactions over the last few days and cringed. Whether it be  incessant posting and hashtagging, or comments I’ve made that I deem witty but others, well, don’t; it’s all made me feel a bit pathetic and desperate.

I’ve said this before; social media is great but when you mix it with a dose of anxiety, paranoia and general ‘feeling like shit about yourself’ it can get a bit difficult. No matter how many people say they don’t, we all compare ourselves to others online. We all try and portray the great and good in our lives; the arty and the fashionable, but when we see other people’s pictures/posts etc. we forget that they are in fact a skewed take on someone’s life and not, pardon the pun, the whole picture.

And then there’s the issue of writing something that, in your head, is really witty and cool that actually isn’t and the other person doesn’t get it so you have to over-explain with something equally un-witty and a plethora of emojis. Sometimes this is played out for everyone to see or worse still it’s in one of those wretched conversations where you see a “read” sign but no reply and you find yourself fretting about whether said person now thinks you’re weird/stupid/unhinged.

I also find I do that thing where I post because I’m feeling a bit down or a bit lonely – the thought of a few likes or better still a comment; seeming like the answer to everything. Some sort of validation.  But again usually it results in no interaction which results in more feelings of hopelessness and self deprecation and so on and so forth.

I long to be one of those people that are really breezy online, someone that doesn’t analyse every single word in a text or a message (and generally make ridiculous assumptions) and not feel the need to document every moment in my life with a picture (and copious filtering, amiright?). I long to just be able to go; “hey, I’m feeling a bit rubbish, fancy a chat?” rather than posting a Guardian article about someone else feeling that way and suggesting it’s “a good read” with the hope that someone might pick up on my subliminal messaging.