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?

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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#timetotalk

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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.

 

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.

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.