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.

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Wedding Woes

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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.

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.

Beauty and The Beast…

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As a chubby acne-prone teenager, the closest I got to beauty products was a bottle of Clearasil and a tea-tree stick. I was ridiculed for my frizzy hair, my bushy eyebrows and my fat arse or ‘lorry arse’ as I once heard my friend refer to it. I used to gaze at the pretty girls with their make-up and plucked eyebrows and long to be the same but never thought it possible. I felt ugly and fat and I didn’t see that ever changing. And to this day, I largely feel the same; there’s very little about myself that I wouldn’t want to change and I spend painstakingly long periods of time scrutinising every inch of my body and noting its flaws. Whilst my lack of confidence is a common characteristic in men and women, I do feel that my anxiety and depression has made it worse and magnified it somewhat with quite severe consequences at times.

Whilst I still don’t like the way I look or feel comfortable in my own skin, my new found love for beauty products has helped. And by that, I don’t mean they’ve physically made me look better but they have helped me psychologically. I know to many that will sound far fetched and self-absorbed but it’s true. When you’re feeling rock bottom and hopeless, dousing yourself in a favourite perfume or slapping on some lipstick can really lift you and make something impossible seem possible.

But of course there are the days when getting out of bed and heading to work is an unfathomable task. And whilst you feel that huge black cloud hanging over you, it doesn’t mean you necessarily lose all sense of pride. You still want to look presentable, you still want to look like you despite the fact inside you’re a quivering wreck. And that’s where quick, smart fixes come into play. The beauty products that involve no faffing or effort but supply optimum results and allow a certain degree of self-regard when all else is awry.

And with this is mind, I wanted to share a few of my go-to products. It’s quite difficult to find many blogs/articles on beauty and depression that give practical, affordable advice and whilst I’m not claiming to be a beauty expert; some of the products I have found joy in might do the same for you.

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The biggest revelation for me has been Liz Earle’s ‘Cleanse and Polish’. My mum has sworn by this for years and I always thought it wouldn’t suit my skin. But having tried it for the first time last year after my mammoth 15 mountain climb; I have used it every day since. Not only does it smell and feel divine but it’s both time-effective and cost-effective. It allows you to wipe every trace of the day away, and whilst that in itself is most therapeutic after a hard day, it leaves you with a wonderful glow, which is hard to come by when you’re taking regular medication and lacking in sunlight. My other preferred make-up remover is Bioderma’s Micelle Solution; I always keep it beside my bed, safe in the knowledge that if I’ve climbed into bed to escape the world, I have something quick and easy to hand to get rid of my warpaint.

As I have already mentioned, taking medication can take its toll on your skin as does stress and anxiety and it’s definitely something I’ve noticed over the last 4-5 years whilst taking antidepressants. As dry and lack-luster as it is, I do however find that Balance Me’s Radiance Face Oil instantly plumps it up and makes it feel alive. Again it smells divine and the act of rubbing it into my face really helps with feelings of zen. Embryolisse’s Lait‐Crème Concentré is also a stable that instantly makes me feel a bit more nourished and less like a leather handbag. Similarly any of Korres‘ body milks, but especially the Santorini Vine, can’t fail to have a positive impact on spirits. The glorious smell coupled with the instant absorption makes for a feeling of being cocooned in cotton wool.

Baths are my biggest indulgence; nothing quite beats sinking into one after a grueling day and quite often, my foot is only just over the flat threshold before I’m taking off my clothes ready to jump in. Whilst I’m not fussy in terms of what I have in it as long as it involves bubbles, one of my faves is Sainsbury’s Mandara Spa range, having taken the recommendation from beauty know-it-all Sali Hughes. And if like me you like to be liberal with your bubbles, its affordable price-tag helps.

Lipstick is probably my biggest weapon in the constant fight with my social anxiety and body confidence. It’s truly remarkable how much bravery a slick of red lipstick can muster. It gives me the confidence to do so many things and to not feel quite so bad in doing them. If I’m wearing it, it will be for a reason other than it looks nice! It will be because I feel fat and ugly, it will be because I was shaking with fear before leaving the house or maybe it might be because it makes me feel that bit more confident. And more often than not I will have chosen MAC’s ‘Lady Danger’ as I’m quite sure it’s not a lipstick but a secret power.

Last but by no means least, I have to mention Chanel No.5. For me this scent is everything. It was both my gran’s and still is my mum’s favourite perfume and holds a special place in my heart. The hint of it reminding me of my childhood playing with my gran’s cosmetics and dressing up in her jewellery; some of my fondest memories. And sometimes when your head is full of anxiety and your overthinking everything, being transported back to a simpler time is a godsend.

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