London To Brighton…or more truthfully….London to Bletchingley!

IMG_4711

It would be completely remiss of me not to begin this post by talking about the horrific events that happened in Manchester last week – events which I’m still struggling to comprehend. I went to bed having seen the tweets about an incident at the Manchester Arena and subsequently read “eyewitness” accounts saying that it was just a blown speaker…it was just a load of helium balloons, and figured it was just Twitter scaremongering. The next think I knew, Tom was waking me up and telling me 19 people had died. I lay in bed feeling utterly sick to my stomach in complete shock, like many of you I’m sure.

Manchester was my home for most of my twenties and like anyone who has lived there will tell you; it really gets under your skin and you never lose that love and pride for the place. Coupled with the fact some of my happiest memories as a child were at that arena, I felt utterly consumed by sadness. My Dad has stood in the exact spot many of those parents were standing in, waiting for me to come out of concerts. I’ve felt that utter elation of seeing my favourite pop stars in the flesh in that arena, I’ve left feeling on top of the world after months and months of waiting for that one night and the thought of those youngsters feeling that way and never making it home is just utterly heart-breaking. I can’t begin to imagine how one would go about dealing with such a tragedy; the injustice, the barbarity and the senselessness of it.

I felt like nothing else mattered last week, that everything paled in comparison to the heartbreak Manchester was going through. I was scared and anxious about the world and didn’t want to get out of bed for fear of something terrible happening. I wasn’t in the best place. But I knew that I had to somehow bring myself out of that dark place and do my charity walk for CALM. I felt guilty posting on social media about it and asking people for money, I felt that people would think I was being selfish and insensitive but at the same time I didn’t want to let CALM down by not raising as much money as I possibly could for them.

I signed up for the walk almost a year ago and it all came down to that one day – Saturday, and despite trying to remain positive, I knew before I even started that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to walk 100KM, I was mentally exhausted and as anyone with mental health issues will tell you, it really affects you physically too.

me

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t do as much training as I should have. I had great intentions as I always do, but in reality they didn’t materialise to much. Yes I got in some good long walks and had physio on my failing ankle but I didn’t do enough strengthening or conditioning. Really, I should have never signed up to do 100KM, because quite frankly it was an impossible task for someone who isn’t exactly built for endurance. But of course, in classic Michelle style, I felt that I had to sign up to something that people would be impressed by, something that felt it would justify asking people for their money. Turns out, people who sponsored me didn’t give me the money because they wanted to see me walk 100KM, they gave me the money because they wanted to support the charity and would have probably given me the money for 10KM.

You’ve heard people say “all the gear and no idea” right? Well that was me. I spent a lot of money on things for this walk; trying to kid myself that with all the regalia 100KM would be easy peasy. Nah-uh. Turns out the more unnecessary stuff you have in your bag, the harder it is to walk as your poor shoulders just get weighed down.

Despite not feeling great I arrived at Richmond Park feeling a bit more positive – the adrenaline started to kick in a bit once we were faced with hundreds of other walkers and Queen blasting out on the speakers. However, that positivity was to be short lived…..

I went to the toilet to put my hat on – you know, just to check it looked okay, as you do. There was no mirror in the Port A Loo so I turned my phone on selfie mode, as you do. Nature called, as it does and I placed my phone on the side of the toilet, as only a complete idiot would do. As if in slow motion, my phone disappeared from view. Initially I thought it would have just fallen on the grass underneath the loo. Nah-uh. You probably don’t need me to tell you where it had fallen and you probably don’t need me to tell you what I had to do next…..let’s just say I was extremely grateful for having packed the hand sanitizer.

So, I embarked on the walk with no working phone and was utterly devastated. You see, I had saved lots of messages and videos on there to watch when the going got tough, I’d compiled special playlists and I’d promised to inundate my social media channels with inane selfies along the way. I’m one of those people that needs positive encouragement when I’m feeling like I can’t do something and the thought of having to do this walk without speaking to Tom, my parents and my brothers really upset me, so I think that was the beginning of the end physiologically for me.

I won’t bore you with a KM by KM account of the walk, but it was tough, really tough. I think I first cried at the 5KM mark when a lady on the street noticed we were walking for CALM and wished us luck saying she supported the charity. And I then spent most of the 40KM I managed to complete just generally crying. Crying because I was in pain from the hellish blisters on the tips of my toes (so annoyed as I had none in training), crying because I knew I wasn’t going to get to Brighton and I was going to let people down, crying because I couldn’t speak to anyone and crying because I wanted to prove myself wrong but I couldn’t.

I bowed out at the 40KM mark as I knew I couldn’t go on with the blisters and under the advice of the medics. I was heartbroken. I felt like the biggest failure and still do despite everyone telling me otherwise. You see the thing is, whilst I signed up for this challenge to benefit CALM and raise money for them to help them continue their amazing work, as anyone who does anything for charity will tell you (if they’re completely honest), there’s always a bit of a selfish reason behind it too. For me, it’s wanting to seek people’s validation, it’s wanting people to be proud of me and see me as strong. And because on this occasion I had to admit by quitting that I wasn’t strong, it felt like I was letting everyone down. I don’t like failing at things, and always give everything 110% because of that and I feel I didn’t and I’m annoyed with myself.

There will be many people reading this, who will be very annoyed with me saying all this as everyone has been telling me all week that I did fantastically and that I shouldn’t be disappointed in myself. But, we can’t help how we feel and I feel utterly disappointed in myself and somewhat humiliated after spending months and months telling everyone how I was going to do it. The fact the company running the walk made you feel like scum for not finishing it didn’t help either.

BUT and this is a big but, I raised over £2,000 for a charity that means a lot to me and that’s what I am trying to focus on. I know that money is going to go on to help so many people and potentially save lives and for that reason I should be proud. I desperately wanted to do something to help; the fact 12 men take their own life in the UK every day just horrifies me and I hope in some small way I have helped. I’m sure in time I will look back on last weekend and find the whole thing less painful and learn from the experience. I will continue to raise money for the charity and do my best to help, I’m just going to make sure that I do it more sensibly and not hurt myself in the process because that doesn’t benefit anyone in the long run.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my friend Nathalie, who did the walk with me. I pretty much bullied her in to it all those months ago and she was a star throughout. Together we raised over £3,700 for CALM and I know I speak for both of us when I say that everyone’s generosity has meant a lot.

My JustGiving page is still open for anyone who would still like to donate

IMG_4764

Advertisements

Mental Health Awareness Week

IMG_1357

I haven’t written a blog for a while; mainly because I’ve been busy fundraising ahead of my walk for CALM in a couple of weeks time (there’s still time to sponsor me, see here!). Well that and taking 5 million pictures of my beautiful new niece, more of which later.

Anyway, this week is Mental Health Awareness Week so I thought it was a fitting time to get back into this blog malarky. Now, every week in my mind should be Mental Health Awareness Week but it’s very refreshing to see so many people sharing their stories this week and the media paying particular attention to it. It’s also great that it comes off the back of the London Marathon and the sterling work Wills, Kate and Harry did with the Heads Together campaign. It really feels like there’s some momentum with talking about our mental health problems becoming far more “normal”, I just hope it’s not a fad and the great work continues.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, I’m currently in the throws of fundraising for CALM, a charity specifically aimed at fighting the stigma surrounding male mental health and reducing the number of male suicides in the UK. You don’t need me to tell you that there’s still massive strides that need to be made to allow men to feel comfortable talking about the intricacies of their emotions and feelings. It’s been hugely encouraging to see the likes of Rio Ferdinand talk so publically about the subject, especially given Rio in many ways is a stereotypical man’s man and one of the last people you’d expect to be so vocal about his struggles with bereavement.

Whilst I applaud anyone who speaks openly about their mental health, it always feels that bit more thought provoking when it’s a man as historically we’re told men don’t talk about these things. And yesterday I read a piece by award winning Dad blogger Jamie Day on his blog A Day In The Life Dad that felt utterly compelling. Not only is it frank and honest but it’s helpful; offering up advice to those who might be in a similar situation. So often you read pieces and they’re harrowing, but they offer little hope, which can be dangerous when you’re already feeling completely hopeless. It also felt that bit special as I follow Jamie and his beautiful wife on Instagram; they have the cutest children and a picturesque life in the country and he’s one of the last people I would have expected to have struggled with their mental health. Of course it’s important to remember that what we see isn’t always the full picture and anyone can, at any time in their life, be affected by mental health problems and it’s not a sign of weakness speaking up about it. So thank you Jamie for being so open.

In the spirit of openness, here’s little gambit on where I’m at with my mental health at the moment. Because I’ve been so busy recently, I’ve not really had much time to feel anxious or down but as it did last year, my birthday this weekend, was something of a catalyst for something of an emotional breakdown.

I recently became an aunty for the first time to the most gorgeous little monkey called Cara. And it’s safe to say that I’m utterly in love. I didn’t think it possible to love such a tiny little thing so much. I’ve been home a lot recently to spend time with her and every time I leave it feels like my heart breaks in two. Dramatic I know but there’s this physical feeling of sadness that engulfs me and lasts for a couple of days whilst I get back in to London life. It’s hideous. I cry my eyes out and my mind is just filled with her face  and it feels much like those all  encompassing feelings of grief when you’ve lost someone. And of course that’s ridiculous because I’m going to see her again in 6 weeks time, but it’s a very real, visceral feeling. I’ve always hated saying goodbye to anyone and often get tearful when I’ve had a lovely time and it’s over but those feelings I have after being home for a few days and return to reality are the worst. I feel everything all at once.

IMG_1342

Tom described it perfectly as he was wiping my tears away on the train; and it somehow helped me rationalise it a little. He said that I feel things more deeply than most – when I’m happy, I’m delirious, but when I’m sad, I’m deeply sad. And that seems to be a good way of looking at it; a way of looking at it that makes me think that I’m not completely stir crazy. I’m just overflowing with emotions.

Wedding Woes

img_1518

Being engaged is wonderful, it really is. Every time I look down at my hand I get a warm feeling inside, as there was a time in my life where I believed no-one would ever want to marry me. But, planning a wedding, it has to be said, is quite bloody stressful and we’re only a few months in!

After the haze of being newly-engaged, the plethora of cards and fridge full of Prosecco settled, we sat down and looked at the reality of being able to get married within the following year. We quickly realised, given our shared priority of having everyone there we wanted and the fact neither of us make a fortune, 2018 was a sensible timeframe. So with nearly 2 years to go, we decided there was no pressure to do any real planning just yet.

How wrong we were.

Thankfully I’m an impatient Taurus and when I have an idea (as soon as Tom was down on one knee, I was planning the flowers) I like to get cracking. I started researching venues (I won’t say where as y’know SPOILERS) and fell in love with one. Thankfully Tom felt the same so we decided to get in touch and see what their availability was like in 2018. Bearing in mind it was September 2016, we assumed we’d have the pick of dates. Nah-uh. They were fully booked; but we could get married on a Tuesday in October if we liked. Given my fatalistic nature, I thought the wedding was ruined; we were never going to find anywhere as perfect and as in budget.

Long story short, Tom being the problem solver he is, gave them a ring to see whether a deal could be struck and by a stroke of sheer luck they had just had a cancellation for a Summer Saturday and it was ours if we wanted it and if we could pay the deposit right away. We did, and we got it, thanks to my very generous future mother in law and her adept online banking skills. Panic over. We have a venue, now we can just relax we thought.

Hmmm maybe not. I had no idea how expensive and how quickly things get booked up/how far in advance you have to book things. It was a steep learning curve. There were a few weeks of utter panic trying to make big decisions on things that we hadn’t even thought about yet, scrambling deposits together and making reservations. Thankfully we agreed on most things but there were a few battles…..namely Tom not allowing me to have the service officiated by my dog!

And then there’s other stuff; stuff that seems really shallow to admit but stuff that really gets me where it hurts and plays on my real insecurities.

Like most girls, despite telling myself I wouldn’t think about my dress until far nearer the time, I made the mistake of spending a lot of time pinning dresses to my Pinterest board and becoming a tad obsessed with finding “the one”. Also like most girls, I plan to lose some weight and shape up before the wedding. As I’ve mentioned before I don’t like the way I look and I’d really like to feel good about myself on my wedding day, and look back on the photos and smile rather than berate myself about the size of my thighs or my bingo wings. And with that in mind, it would make sense to wait a bit before trying dresses on. I didn’t though and jumped straight in, and whilst it was fun as I was with my best friend, it left me feeling even worse about my body and how I’m going to look on our wedding day.

No-one tells you before you go that wedding dresses come in small and that you’ll probably have to go up a size or two. And of course this isn’t the end of the world, but when you struggle with your size already, it’s quite disheartening and takes the sheen off the whole experience. Although not quite as disheartening as when you put on a dress and they try and hoist you in and it just won’t budge over your fat arse and you’re seconds away from ripping  it! I left feeling that I might just walk down the aisle in a bin bag. I really might.

And then there’s the wedding show. I had the most fabulous time this weekend with two friends sipping champagne and soaking up all the ideas, but the catwalk show added another level of self resentment. I can’t say for sure but I would bet a million pounds that none of the girls modelling the dresses were over a size 6. They were tiny; absolutely beautiful, but tiny. Each of the dresses looked exquisite with their perfect décolletages and honed backs, and I left longing to look like that on my wedding day. Of course I won’t as I have hips, a bum, and nothing remotely chiselled but the feeling that this is the ideal and that I compare myself to it, makes me sad. I know that beautiful comes in all shapes and sizes, but it’s hard to remember that when you’re constantly faced with gazelle-like, deep tanned beauties! So I vow to not go near another dress for at least another 6 months when I’ll hopefully feel better about my body and be in a better mindset to not scrutinise every single detail of my shape.

Watch this space…..and if any of you have any tips for planning a wedding (specifically for anxious/self hating people!) I’d love to hear them, please do get in touch.

#timetotalk

C3k5ZxWWcAAuyLI.png

I haven’t written anything on here for a long time but I thought as today is Time To Talk day that it would be rather fitting to erm…talk!

It really is wonderful to see how many people now get behind #timetotalk; my social media feeds have been full of encouraging messages urging people to speak out and talk about their personal mental health issues or just mental health in general.

Whilst talking feels like one of the most natural things in the world – talking about your mental health really isn’t all that easy. As much as we are lead to believe that the tide is changing and the stigma surrounding it is disappearing; struggling with mental health is still a very lonely place to be. It’s important to remember that a tweet or a Facebook status pledging your allegiance to help fight the stigma is pretty redundant if you don’t actually DO something. And when I say ‘do something’ I don’t necessarily mean campaign, start a petition or join a march (although if you want to, please do!), I mean reach out to someone and have a conversation. It doesn’t have to be a conversation directly about mental health; take it from someone who knows, it can be quite off-putting when someone you barely know comes up to you and says “I didn’t know you were mentally ill”! But it can be as simple as a “how you doing?” or “fancy a coffee?”. The mere act of engaging with someone who might be struggling and showing them you are thinking about them and more importantly that you’re there, really could help make someone’s day so much better and give them that ounce of hope they’ve been searching for.

I’ve lost count of the times where a small act of kindness from someone has changed a really dark day into a really hopeful one. Kindness really is the greatest gift you can give someone, along with your time. Time is so precious these days with the fast pace of life , there’s never enough of it; so when you spend some of your valuable time on someone it really can mean the world to them.

And if you’d like to know more about how you can help support someone who is going through mental health problems there’s some handy info on the Time to Change website, Mind‘s website and on the Rethink Mental Illness website.

 

Keep calm and carry on

img_2927
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.

Panic On The Streets of London

image

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

image

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.