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 I’ve had to cancel plans with friends and trips and it’s left me feeling somewhat withdrawn from the world.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.

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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!!

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.