Friday, 30 December 2016

Time For A New Start

The new year is almost upon us and while it is really only just another day in the span of our lives. I actually really like the start of a new year. It doesn't make any logical sense - but when does anything I do make logical sense - but I just feel like a new year also feels a little like a fresh start. A chance to celebrate the past, welcome the future and also to just move on if you need to.

In all honesty, 2016 has been a tough year for me. There has been a lot of horrible things going on in the wider world that has made this year pretty awful but I've also just had a really difficult year personally as well. I'm not going to go into too many details but lets just say I'm ending this year feeling incredibly glad that it's all over and I have a chance, metaphorically, to start again.

Often I make new years resolutions and never stick to them because I am who I am and I usually just go with the flow but because last year has been so horrible, I wanted to come up with a way of dealing with 2017 a little better. So I'm not saying these are resolutions as such, but more just things that I hope to achieve next year to help me be a more rounded and balanced person. So that maybe, just maybe, when it comes to be the end of 2017, I can feel just a little bit better about the year that has passed.

First up, I want to get organised.
I've always been an organisation freak. I like things to have order and I like to know what I'm doing and for everything to just flow well. But this year, I've been all over the place. With my mental health issues and physical health issues, keeping on top of things hasn't been a priority but I have come to the conclusion that doing so will help improve my well-being in the long run so I'm planning to be more organised next year.

Secondly, I am going to relish in the good moments.
While 2016 has been pretty dire, there were some good moments but now looking back, I keep focusing on the things that went wrong which isn't great. So for 2017 I am going to re-think my life and remember that there will always be good and bad things, and the bad should never cancel out the good. One way in which I'll be doing this is using a memory box (thank you Jess!) to write down things that have made me happy and popping them into the box to open at the end of the year.

Lastly, I want to stress less.
Okay, easier said then done right? But I'm sure I've spent far too much time this year stressing about things and I really want to not do that next year. I would very much like to not stress so much next year. Things may well be awful and annoying but if it's out of my control then I need to work out how to let it out of my mind or if is in my control then I need to come up with a plan to deal with the situation. I want to, essentially, be more zen about things next year. I can at least try, right?

What are you hoping for next year?


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Being Chronically Ill at Christmas

Each year I am so thankful I make it to the festive period and survive it. 
Christmas for me is a time to reflect and see what I've been through. It gives me strength for the year ahead. We can draw a line under what has happened and focus on continuing my good streak. That's what it always feels for me; I am in a game with my health, praying nothing goes wrong, praying I don't catch something, praying I make it through another season without an admission. 

This year I look back and despite having had two surgeries and many months of agony, I am not hateful or woeful. 
I am extremely thankful. 

Isn't it ironic that to see what you're most thankful for you have to go through something awful? I know that my surgeries might not be the 'most awful thing ever' but to me, in those bleak moment, it was awful. Those days unable to eat, unable to drink, feeling weak and feeble, dependent on everyone else helping me, not knowing if I needed medical attention or just waiting it out. You already know how my summer ended, with my ostomy being created. 

But those months in between surgeries and even leading up to the first one, I was in agony and I did wonder what on earth I had been doing before hand to let it get so bad. But I needed to hear it wasn't my fault and that it was just my disease, it couldn't be helped but it could be fixed. It would be fixed. It would need fixing twice, but it would be fixed. 

I would be fixed.

So who do I thank and how do I thank them?

That's something for another day, another post. Another train of thought. 

Being chronically ill at Christmas is different than any other time of the year because it is hard to shy away from being sociable. It hard to be away from family and loved ones. I am not necessarily forced into be out and about but I do feel that obligation pulling at me to with people who love me, so I can show and tell them that I love them too. 

Being ill yesterday - or any day surrounding Christmas - is hard. You have to muster strength and mental ability to get your body through the day. I struggled abit but I slept well for it. Sleep is so important this time of year for me. What else is key is maintaining a regular routine; eating breakfast at the same time, trying to stick to the 'correct' foods and not indulging too much. This has been key most years but even so much more now with the new ostomy. I have to keep hydrated. I haven't restricted myself in food or drink but I've been sensible and thoughtful about what I've had. The only thing that is some times unavoidable is the time we have been eating, but I respect that aspect and allow it to be more flexible at this time.  I am just happy to be here, in the presence of my family and not in hospital. I am healthy and grateful.  

Being ill now has a slightly different meaning, but by no means will it go away. I will always have issues but I am learning to be better informed, take more of an interest in my body and respect that my IBD will always be around, it would be cured. Accepting 'my fate' hasn't been easy but I am not fighting against my body. I am fighting to save it from being or getting worse. 

Each day is one more chalked up for a win over my illness. Every. Single. Day.  For both my ostomy and my IBD, each day is a learning experience. There isn't always something to battle or to win over but it is one more days with my illness than without it. 

I am here despite having a chronic illness. I am here because I have an ostomy. I am so relieved that I am. 

Friday, 23 December 2016

Tis the Season to be "Merry"!

Christmas is a time of cheer, yes? It's a time to be full of happiness, magic and hope. It's a fun time of year and a time to celebrate and love. It is one of my favourite times of year, without a doubt.

But there is one thing that I really dislike about the season. 

And that is the assumption that to enjoy Christmas fully, you have to drink. Even if it is just one glass, drinking just seems to be an obligatory event of Christmas and people really struggle to take no for an answer. 

This is something that people struggle to accept at any normal time but at Christmas it seems to be even more suspicious when you decline an alcoholic beverage.

Jenny mentioned this on her twitter the other day, which is what inspired me to write this blog post today. I was going to write this earlier in the year but never got around to it so thought it was the perfect time to bring this up now. Just to see if anyone else really struggles with this or if it is just me.

Being a non-drinker seems to be the one thing that a lot of people find really hard to accept. The minute the words "no, thank you" exit my mouth after I've been offered an alcoholic beverage of any kind, I always get a response which tries to change my mind. Often along the lines of:

  • "You only have to have one."
  • "But it is soo good, you have to try it!"
  • "Are you sure? You're going to be missing out."
  • "But it's free!"
  • "I promise you won't regret it."
This can definitely get frustrating. At one point in time I actually used to respond with "I'm driving so I can't" or before I'm even offered would admit that I was the designated driver and that I don't drink and drive. But even sometimes with that in people's minds, I often still get a similar response. Sometimes it'll be that it's just one, sometimes that I'll be having food too or it's a long time before you leave so it's fine.

But it's not, is it?

Because I said no. And I mean no. 

If someone offered you a cigarette and you said no, the person would just leave it be. But when it comes to alcohol, it just seems that people cannot take no for an answer and I really struggle to understand this mindset. Alcohol is a drug. It's a socially accepted drug but it is still a drug and if I tell you I don't want it, please do not shove it down my throat or keep mentioning it. I have made a decision and I demand that you accept that.

Sadly, I have gotten to the stage where I now admit I cannot drink because I'm on medication and that usually gets people to back off - but surprisingly not always - and it is just so frustrating that people don't just take no as an answer from the offset.

How is it possible that alcohol has become this thing that everyone must drink? 

So if you hear someone say that they would not like to have any alcohol this Christmas - or at any other time in the year - can we all just please nod and accept that they have made a choice and will not change their mind, no matter how much you try to get them to? 

Because, at the end of the day, we all have our own reasons for drinking or not drinking and we are entitled to our own opinions. So it's time to just respect that, right?

Sunday, 18 December 2016

It's okay to cry.

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief lately, in particular dealing with grief at a young age like I’ve had to do. It’s messy and tricky and there’s no manual to it. Adults a lot older than you will tell you that they know what you’re going through because they’ve also lost someone recently – but they’re a lot older, wiser and more experienced than you and it’s not the same.

There was a particular phrase people used to say to me a lot shortly after my mother’s death, one that I loved hearing at the time but now I hate. People frequently would say to me ‘You’re so strong!’ Because I didn’t cry, because I went to school and did my work, because I got on with my life immediately after with a smile on my face. And because people kept praising me for this, I felt like I was coping well. That this ‘strength’ of not crying and feeling my emotions that were lying underneath was a good thing, and that if I ever did cry or feel upset I was weak.

I know now this is so wrong.

For so long I withheld my emotions because I thought that way I was ‘strong’ and that was good. People seemed so impressed by my positivity and lack of emotions that I suppressed anything I felt. And because of this, I didn’t grieve. Instead of feeling my emotions and dealing with the death of my mother, I pretended it didn’t happen. Part of this was because I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to even comprehend my mother’s death, but the way in which people reacted to my behaviour also inadvertently encouraged this behaviour. Nobody sat me down and told me it was okay to cry, that I needed to deal with my grief and try and process it. At one point I do remember trying therapy, aged 17, because everything was beginning to feel overwhelming and there were some days I couldn’t even leave my house and go to school.

But I couldn’t talk. Every time I tried to talk about how I felt, the words wouldn’t come out and I would just cry. After one session I decided therapy wasn’t right for me at that point and I went back to burying all of my grief.

Looking back, I can acknowledge that there were a number of reasons why I didn’t deal with my grief at the time. At 15, I just wasn’t emotionally mature or ready to deal with something as monumental as the loss of my mother. I also wasn’t a very emotional person anyway, as I barely cried at anything. I also understand that everyone grieves and reacts differently. But there were little things that people said to me that contributed to my denial as well.

I’m not blaming anyone in particular, and I know it’s hard to figure out what to say to someone who’s experiencing a great loss. But sometimes being ‘strong’ isn’t the right answer. Crying and feeling your emotions is healthy. It doesn’t make you weak, and don’t let anyone ever make you think it does. Grieving is a long process, and a hard one at that. Whether it’s the death of a family member or the loss of a close relationship in your life, please remember it’s okay to cry. Let yourself feel things. It will get easier, eventually.

Friday, 16 December 2016

So... I'm confused. Please Help.

A fair few months ago now, we had a guest post on here from Caitlin about going braless (you can read it here) and ever since then it is something that I have been thinking about... a lot. Now, I am a female with moderately large boobs. They're not massive by any means but they're not small and perky either. And, (*cough*notsurewhyi'madmittingthisonline*cough*) they also already sag. Which is so completely and utterly saddening but that is a story for a different day, no?

So... with my boobs, the thought of going bra-less was a big no-no. It would not work. I had big, heavy boobs that literally wanted to be on the ground. I needed a bra to keep them upright and in place. To stop them from just going wherever the hell they want to go while I got on with life.

But then I did more thinking and more time without a bra inside the house. And I realised that it is so nice to feel free. Yes, I have even gone out of the house without a bra on. (Of course, I also have one multiple t-shirts and a big hoody but STILL). However, each time I did leave the house, while feeling free, I also felt naked. Of course, I wasn't but it felt like everyone knew I was braless and that they were staring. Ewww.

Add to that the stupid time I went out when it was cold outside and didn't realise until I got home how perky my nipples had become. (*hides in embarrassment forever*)

But what did happen is that I understood the bras that I have been wearing were a) really, really old and b) did not fit.

There had to be a reason that I needed the bras to come off so desperately at the end of the day right? I mean, sometimes my boobs even tried their hardest to come free of the bras before the day ended too and nobody needed to see that, and it certainly wasn't comfortable!

So... I plucked up the courage and I went to a bra fitting. And I tried on a non-wired bra. And it was FABULOUS.

No really. I loved it.

So comfortable. So wonderful. Just perfect.

I wish I could go back to that moment. To understand why the heck I ever thought that feeling could be re-created all day long.

I am now just baffled.

I have since bought a few more bras in the new size that is supposed to be my size. All under-wired. And all of them fit perfectly when I first put them on. I feel snug, secure and comfortable. Just as we all want to be.

But then, halfway through the day I become so uncomfortable, more uncomfortable than I was in my old bras and it makes me want to whip the damn thing off and throw it in the bin. I've tried bra extenders to make it even longer. I've tried changing the straps to see if that made a difference but no.

No matter what I do, I seem to always be uncomfortable in a bra.

And this makes me sad.

And confused.

So I just wanted to write this post to see if maybe you know that I'm doing something wrong? Do you have a solution? Do you have a bra that is so comfortable you'd never go back?

Also... please confirm that I am NOT alone in feeling this way!


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Please, Just Repect my Decision, OUR Decision

When I turned sixteen, I announced to my best friend that I wasn’t going to have kids. It was just something I wasn’t interested in; becoming a mom, raising children wasn’t any part of the life I had planned for myself.

She laughed, quite amused by my statement. How can you know that at sixteen?! She asked me, confused. I bet you change your mind. In fact, I bet you’re the first of us to have children, Lou! I told her I wouldn’t, I would make sure of it. I was a foolish sixteen-year-old.

So, off I went to university two years later, fell in love and started feeling that maternal instinct pulling at me inside. Did I want to have children with this person? Was he the right person to start a family with? Could this – our relationship – work in that way? It turned out it couldn’t, but that is another story for another day. The thing is, those warm, fuzzy baby feelings bubbled under the surface for a long time after we broke up, long into the years that followed until my world was rocked by my Crohn’s diagnosis.

Let me preface this next ‘chapter’ by saying that having IBD does not hold anyone back from having children. It does not mean you pass it on to your offspring, nor does it mean that they are affected by your medications or surgeries. They just have to be planned, that is all. And I commend anyone who has children and has IBD. That must be one heck of a struggle some days.

Having my Crohn’s diagnosis wasn’t the first one I had encountered. I was almost seventeen when it was confirmed I had PCOS – Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome – meaning I have very erratic or none-existent periods and it could be very difficult to conceive a child. Of course, being seventeen I wasn’t interested in fertility rates and future treatments for conception; that for me was either a very long way off or wasn’t going to happen. Excellent, one less thing to worry about I thought. 

So, considering all this, I decided quite early – probably on one of those long afternoons whilst in hospital isolation, a few months into my Crohn’s adventure – that I was back on the no-baby bandwagon. For the most part, I’ve sat there alone; not a lot of people willing to share my views.  But it’s an opinion and a decision I am open about and my main reason behind it is because I don’t want to be a sick mom. There is no guarantee that any medication I tried would get me into ‘remission’ nor would it hold long enough to conceive, give birth, and raise a child. And despite doctors’ best efforts, I continued to get sicker and sicker as the years went on, I tried more and more medications to help me just live my own life. I couldn’t have imagined what that would have been like with a husband and a child. I am lucky to have found my current partner, given the circumstances. And the guilt I’ve felt already about being chronically ill and needing help; the pressure of me being unwell has put on my family, my partner and trying to continue to work, has only solidify my choice to not want to have children.

Selfish, I know, right?

Well, no I don’t think so.

It’s my body and I can choose not to have children. My partner feels the same way; it is one of things we  agree on 100%. Our life together with my incurable illness is more than enough, thank you!

So, imagine my shock when, in the months that have followed my ostomy surgery, I find people asking me when we will start a family.

Why is there an assumption that because I am well again now, that we must procreate? It hasn’t even been four months into this recovery and yet people want to discuss my womb like it needs to be filled pronto by life!

Why is there no respect for the decision we have made together as a couple to not have children?

I am surrounded by baby stuff these last couple months; as my brother is becoming a dad in the Spring, making me an aunt. That is all great news and I’m completely excited for them, but I am filled with anxiety. What if I change my mind and do want children? Is this why my Crohn’s got bad enough to need my ostomy to make me realise this? Or am I just clutching at straws? Would I want it? I feel pressure to be ‘normal’ and want to want to have children because it feels unorthodox to be against procreating. There is an expectation from both my own and my partner’s family to have a child together; give them grandchildren. If anything, that makes me feel more guilty for being sick and that being my life, my world, my future.

My life. My world. My future.

Is that for me to decide...?

Yes, my ostomy surgery has saved me from a life of pain. But it has not changed my view on having or wanting children. The freedom that I now feel because of my ileostomy isn’t making me pine for a baby of my own, it makes me want to go out and do new and exciting things. It makes me feel grateful for my body, the way it now is. It makes me realise that I have been through plenty already, I just want some normality for a while. And normality should be buying a house, living with my partner, having a couple of dogs, and enjoying being together. That’s what I want for my life.

Despite everything being different, I feel the same as I did twelve years ago. I now feel like I can achieve that.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Fast and Furiously through Life

Not many of our readers will have met me in person (you're the fortunate ones), but anyone who has probably can think of a few words to describe me, hopefully some of them nice. But the word which I think would be screamingly obvious within a few minutes is... fast.

I don't mean that in the Austenian/bodice ripper novel sense of a "fast woman" but in the literal "opposite of slow" sense of the word. I walk, talk, eat, drink even read at a speed that most people find disturbingly quick. I have to be yanked back when I'm walking with friends, I try to say half a dozen things at once and fudge them all, I'll have finished a meal in the time it takes anyone else to eat half of theirs and I will read an entire book before your eyes if you give me a few hours.

Despite people's admonishments and my own meagre attempts to rein myself in I can't seem to slow the pace at which I barrel through the world. I've been somewhat served right for this propensity recently when I got caught speeding and had to attend a speed awareness course yesterday. Maybe this is a necessary reminder that I should slow down in more ways than one.

It Me

I often wonder if my breakneck consumption of food, tea, books & the world is actually slowing me down in the long run? I'm so impatient to get to the next thing that I'm not savouring the experiences I'm having at any one time. It's the kind of illusory shortcut that makes people overtake you at stupid speeds only to have to slam to a stop 500 yards in front of you. You haven't gotten anywhere any quicker and all you are is frustrated.

My life is mostly blurs of mindless absorption punctuated by grinding halts of anguish when I suddenly *can't* do something quickly - like writing. Oh boy does it bother me that I can't seem to get any kind of momentum with writing at the moment, I'll make several sputtering attempts to jump-start the rust-bucket of my writer's brain, give it up as hopeless then swerve back into the fast lane for another burst of high-speed monotony.

If I slowed down, took my time and really lived each day, maybe everything would flow. A steady stream of attention for all the things I want to do, if I approach problems at a more manageable speed perhaps I can work out how to solve them before I've crashed straight into them. If I wasn't in such a desperate hurry to finish my book maybe I'd be able to get somewhere without constantly stalling.

Slow down, enjoy the view and get to your destination in one piece. Something to apply to life and the road.

P.S. Don't be a fucking idiot while driving, something that always bears repeating, even to me.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Fantastic Besties (and Where to Find Them)

I am a massive Potterhead. I am part of the generation who grew up with Harry Potter, who eagerly awaited each new books release. I cried when I watched the last film, was one of the first people in the world to see The Cursed Child and I have Harry Potter merchandise scattered around my bedroom. To say that I am a fan is an understatement, Harry Potter is part of who I am, and it makes up my very essence as a person.

Naturally, like many Potter fans, I was very excited when Fantastic Beasts was announced so much so that months in advance I made plans with my three best friends Chelle, Ray and Faye to go and see the film, however this wouldn’t be a normal outing.

Those who have followed my journey here on Safe Space will know that I’ve been making massive progress with my agoraphobia, PTSD and anxiety this past year and I decided that I wanted to tackle my biggest challenge yet: going to the area where my abusive ex lives to go to the cinema and watch Fantastic Beasts. I haven't set foot in this part of town for years and I finally felt like I was ready to tackle my biggest demon.

And then, the Johnny Depp casting news was announced.

For some Potter fans, this was nothing more than a distasteful choice (if problematic to them at all) but when I read the news I actually broke down in tears. You see, Harry Potter has always been a safe space for me. It was also a massive source of comfort to me when I came out of the abusive relationship. When I was bruised and broken it gave me the strength to get up and fight and restored my faith in humanity. So Johnny Depp, a known abuser, being cast felt like a massive betrayal to me, I felt so let down and for a time I felt lost. I made the personal choice to not support this part of the Wizarding World and cancelled my plans to see this film telling my friends to go and see it without me. That was when something unexpected happened.

I woke up to a message saying that they’d been talking and they would rather not see the film and see me instead, a decision that I found incredibly moving. So on the 20th November, the day that we were supposed to go and see Fantastic Beasts, we got together and went for a meal at a pub right next to the cinema so that I could still face my biggest trigger with them by my side.

Looking back I still can’t quite believe that I did it, especially because I was so incredibly anxious that morning but my girls got me through. Over the past year I have faced so many of my demons and they have been by my side every step of the way. They are my Harry, Ron and Hermione not letting me face the darkness alone. They are the tribe that I dreamed of someday finding ever since I was a little girl who learnt what true friendship is from these books.

Magic aside, at the core of Harry Potter is the message of standing up for what you believe to be right, which is something that I feel like I did that day for the women and men in the world who live in fear of their abusers, but also for myself. I took a stand that said this is not okay, I am not supporting that and did something for myself instead and my friends cared about me enough to support me in my decision. Forget Fantastic Beasts, I have fantastic friends and they can be found by my side, always.

If you enjoyed this post, you can find more on: 

Friday, 2 December 2016

Getting My Fitness Back Again... Maybe

If you've been following my posts here on Safe Space for a while, then you probably read this post where I discussed that my physical health isn't great, and this post where I talk about my current progress. This is something that I've been struggling with for a long time. It's hard to not be able to do all the things you used to do, not because you don't want to but because you're physically incapable of doing it. 

I had a bit of a set back since that latter post. I stopped exercising almost completely again because it became too much and too painful. So for the last few months I've been trying to get my fitness back. It's been a long and difficult progress and I am nowhere near where I wish I was and that keeps making me want to just give up and just be the lazy person my body is screaming at me to be. But I just don't think I can be that person. 

First of all I started walking more. I drove to the park and ride near work and then walked 25mins from there to work and 25mins back too. I did well with this until my muscles and joints started screaming for pain and I realised I couldn't do it every single day. So I changed it up. Walked some days and took the bus on others. I soon started to feel stronger but also still a little deflated that I couldn't do it every day.

Then I went back to the gym and tried pilates. The first session was tough. I almost cried in pain in the class so I just stopped that exercise and was just unable to finish any of the exercises they did. But I felt better at the end of it. But also exhausted and destroyed.
And I continued to feel that way for the next three days. I had the normal muscle pains but on top of it I had an aching feel that wouldn't go away.

But I went again. And it was tough, again, but I still managed to do just that little bit more. And this time the pain lasted a little less.

I'm now without a car so I've been walking to and from the stations everyday, I have plans to go swimming and go back to pilates but I'm also getting aches and pains on random days again. My arm has been a pain recently where it's been so painful that I couldn't sleep. It's a daily struggle but I know that I need to lose weight and if I want to do that, I need to exercise. One way or another. Just push through the pain.

So I'll keep going. But I will remember my limitations. I do not want to be bed bound again. I will not push it. But I will push myself just a little bit.

Do you have any exercising tips for someone who is often in pain?

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Remaining Positive in the Face of [Chronic] Illness

Once the battle of being diagnosed with an illness, be it chronic or not, has passed – with elation, fear, and exhaustion – it is not long before the next battle comes.

For me this was “finding my feet”. I spent six weeks or so in hospital over the space of four months, as we sorted out my medications and relieving my symptoms. Once I was on an upward path, everyone began to tell me this little nugget of wisdom:

“You've got to find the positive strength to get through this”

Hear it a few times, you take it on board and try your best to be positive. All of the time. But you forget you are fighting your own body, draining yourself of important and fundamental energy that healthy people just don't need to do or even contemplate doing. And on top of that, you feel somewhat hard pressed to be positive. Even when things go wrong. When your meds start to make you feel worse, you try and ride it out and hope it gets better; you don't want anyone to think you're not being positive about this terrible illness you have.

I tried about five medications in those early days without success. In this period, I hid away from people, quite easy when you're stuck in hospital. On those multiple admissions, my doctors tried hard to figure out what was now causing me a problem, a pain, a side effect; just why I wasn't getting any better. Then I received funding for a biological drug called Humira and it seemed to change everything. Once I could do my own injections at home, I had my disease staged with a MRI scan and I went back to work. This is when the big ‘push’ of practically everyone I saw telling me “how brave I was” and how it was “important I just tried to be happy and remain positive” throughout all my “bad spells”.

I didn't have bad spells.
I didn’t feel particularly brave.
I wasn't happy AT ALL.

This was the start of 2012. I was trying to find out who I was in a time where everyone wanted me to be happy that I was alive and well.
My bad spells were masked by my medication. It helped me a great deal but it didn't fix me. It certainly would never cure me and I still felt awful a great deal of the time.
My bravery? I was utterly heartbroken as I mourned my old, wonderful, normal life that was now just an endless barrage of tests, managing my diet and tracking symptoms. Being in hospital for so long, being so unwell, made me paranoid about when I actually did feel well – Me? Well? Something must be wrong! Ensue panic!

I just wasn't happy at all. I struggled to find my own new identity in being sick. I couldn't deny what I had or the simple fact that I had it, so I sat and thought long and hard about what I wanted to do. What I wanted to be, who I wanted to be. I read books, articles, spoke to other patients, confessed a lot to my counsellor and slowly I came around. But I struggled a great deal – and to a certain extent, still do – with being told to “be happy”. I don't think it's necessarily that simple, nor is it that easy to do. And why can't you have some time to be angry about things, about this type of thing?

It is not easy to be happy all the time. It is incredibly hard and draining to be positive all the time. I appreciate good advice but not when it is being constantly rammed down our throats; from doctors, medical staff, loved ones, it’s all said with that compassion that leaves you feeling grateful, although through gritted teeth. I don't feel as if I can be unhappy about my health. Especially now in my current situation; going through two major surgeries in four months, coming out with an ileostomy and a forever changed digestive system. Let alone how my scars and my actual ostomy makes me feel and look. I can't always be smiling about it. I need to be angry, some times.

So, remaining positive; harder than it seems. More complex than first meets the eye. Not always for the best.
Please, let us be negative and grieve for a while.
Chronically ill people are the strongest and most resilient people I know. I'm sure that's not just down to being positive, they get angry too.
Let us. We always come back to being happy and finding the funny side. Especially when it comes to bowels!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Time Out

I am a person who likes Doing Things. This has been true for many years. My mum always used to wonder how I can manage to fill my time, especially summer holidays. I was always busy, never really bored. Even though I have brothers and sisters, I was very good at entertaining myself and finding something to do. Even if that something wasn’t useful. Sims 2 anyone? 

I recognise this in myself as a good trait. It means I am more inclined to try new things, to explore the world, go to events by myself and generally whittle away the hours in contentment. 

Lately however, its become more problematic. I have a job which takes up quite a lot of my life, and more recently its become a little unbalanced so I’ve dedicated more of my life to work. Which is fine, except something else has to give. There is no wiggle room. But the problem is, I really like my life. I enjoy spending time with friends, eating out and going to the theatre and cinema, travelling and going to new places. I’m also working on my 30 Before 30 List. 

So as a result, my juggling became more and more chaotic until I started dropping balls. My mum got upset that I wasn’t talking to her much. Friends were annoyed that I kept cancelling or disappearing. I was trying to run (literally, 5k) on very little sleep. Consequently, my mental health suffered. My anxieties shot through the roof. I was stressed out and ironically I didn’t even have the time to plan how to deal with it. 

As many of you know, lists are my thing. I love a spreadsheet and a to list. But sometimes, I forgot that life shouldn’t be one giant task. I was so busy ticking things off that I forgot to actually savour the moment. While its great to have lots of amazing stuff planned, sometimes spontaneity is okay. Not doing anything is also okay. 

Luckily for me, work is going to calm down a little for the next few months. And of course I am seizing this opportunity to get lots of things done (like finally teaching myself to cook!!) but I also recognise the need to look after myself too. Because I haven’t been, and that needs to change. There is no point accomplishing things if I am tearing my hair out whilst doing it.

So right now, I am curled up with a blanket writing this blog post. And when its done, I’m going to treat myself to a film. No social media, no blogging or net surfing or multitasking. Brains deserve a break too!

 photo safe space bio_zps8jlgrcn3.png

Sunday, 27 November 2016

All The Single Ladies

Halfway through this year I found myself single. Not through my own choice I might add, but I was suddenly thrust into a bubble of uncertainty and complete confusion about what to do with myself now a whole part of my life had been shaken up. And it took a while before I began to settle into single life and remember why being single is actually quite brilliant. 

So often being single is seen as a negative thing which I’m learning couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve not spent much of my adult life single; I was in a relationship until I was 18 and then started a new relationship when I was 21 so I haven’t really experienced being single as a ‘proper’ adult. (And by ‘proper adult’ I mean 21+) At first it felt like a burden and a horrible cross to bear, who wanted to be single and face the prospect of never finding someone ever again? Not me, that was for sure. However since then my view has changed dramatically and I couldn’t be less bothered by my singleton status.

I thought I’d compile a list of all the great things about being single to show that it isn’t all doom and gloom:

- You don’t have to be responsible for anyone but yourself
- You can do what you want, when you want
- You don’t have to worry about someone else’s wellbeing all the time
- You remember that you’re actually a pretty awesome human being on your own
- You can flirt to your hearts content
- You can starfish in bed all night long
- You don’t have to worry about arguments or disagreements over petty things
- You can listen to what you want and watch what you want without criticism/annoying someone else
- You fall in love with yourself all over again
- You don’t have to rely on someone else to please you in the bedroom
- You don’t have to spend money on someone else
- You can be the best version of you

I guess some of these make relationships sound like a negative thing and that couldn’t be further from the truth, but there is this assumption that relationships are the best thing in the world and if you don’t find the right person and marry them then you’ve somehow failed. WRONG. As long as YOU are happy then you can be whoever you want to be and be with whoever you want to be with, if that’s anyone at all.

Right now I feel such a freedom and happiness being single and I can’t imagine getting into a relationship again any time soon (never say never etc) as right now I feel so balanced and happy with how my life is. I’m enjoying having the freedom to find myself again and fall in love with myself both emotionally and physically. It’s so important to get to a stage where you love yourself because if you don’t then you run the risk of getting into a relationship where you accept less than you deserve and you should never sell yourself short when it comes to love. Everyone deserves someone who loves every single atom of them; who loves them with a ferocity that can’t be matched and would do anything for them.

I’m excited to move forward with my life as a single woman and I can’t wait to see what the rest of my life brings! 

Friday, 25 November 2016

Clean Freak... Or Maybe Not.

One of the things that really grates on my nerves is when people trivalise and normalize OCD. It has now become an acronym that everyone has heard of and throws around as though it isn't a life-crippling illness that can change someone's well-being for the rest of their lives. Sentences about how people need things to be a certain way and therefore they are "a little OCD", are so incredibly harmful as it diminishes the struggle that everyone who actually has OCD faces every single day. OCD is not just about wanting things to occur in a certain way. It is about not being able to function if it isn't a certain way.

Another common misconception about people who have OCD is that we're all clean freaks. And that if you clean your house a LOT, you are obviously OCD. Seriously? I cannot even find the words to describe how much this one strikes me to my core. It is because of this view of OCD that I never believed I had the illness because I am a messy person. Lazy, is often the word used to describe my attitude towards my room and cleaning it. Thus I was pretty certain that I couldn't possibly have OCD because of this. OCD's were perfectionists in my head because that is how everyone portrays them.

And it is wrong.

And damaging.

I cannot even imagine what my life might have been like if I'd been diagnosed earlier. If I'd understood what OCD actually was then maybe I could have gotten help sooner and I wouldn't be struggling so much today.

But the media and society did not help me with my diagnosis. And I am so worried about everyone else who probably needs help but just does not understand because their OCD isn't what everyone says OCD is.

So in this post I also want to break down this misconception about cleanliness. I want to try and explain how I view cleanliness and how much I struggle because of it.

If you've been following this blog for a while then you will know that I have difficulties with food. That I have difficulties with my hands and constantly have to clean them with hand sanitizer or hand soap to deal with life. It was actually my issue with the cleanliness of hands that finally had me going to the doctors to find out that I did have OCD but it is actually only one of my issues, of which I have now realised I have many.

So, I'm sure you think that because I wash my hands a lot, that I am a clean freak.

But you're wrong.

And the main reason for this is that I am actually afraid of cleaning products.

I'm just going to let that soak into your mind for a moment.

One of my fears is that the cleaning products I use to clean the germs, that I am terrified of, will actually cause me to get ill and die.

Not a rational thought, right?

And yet, have you ever looked at the back of a bottle of cleaning spray? Have you read the warnings? Don't let it touch your skin. Wash your hands immediately. If you drink it, go to the hospital straight away.

All warnings which my brain have taken and blown out of proportion.

Because that is what my brain does best.

Last week I was sick on the carpet in my flat. Naturally I needed to clean it up. Had to clean it up because it was gross and I felt dirty and I wanted it gone. But to clean it up, I first had to buy disinfectant - because I didn't even have any - and then I had to wear three pairs of gloves to wash the carpet with and then I had to shower straight away. And, even though it is now clean, I am still having trouble walking on that patch of carpet. So much so that I have had to put a rug down so that I am not walking on that bit of carpet. The problem is that I am still afraid that the disinfectant will kill me and that it hasn't worked in cleaning the germs that the sick left behind.

And this is just one example of my cleaning product issues. Don't even get me started on bins.

So no, OCD is not just about being a clean freak. OCD affects everyone differently and we  really need to stop normalizing and trivializing it because being clean is actually a very normal thing. Cleaning because you have OCD is not.

So if you hear it happening around you, a joke or a comment or something that makes OCD seem like an easy thing to deal with, for my sake and for the sake of people you may not even realise have the illness, could you try and correct them? Explain that unless they can't function until they clean or tidy, then they do not have OCD and need to stop using the acronym as a throwaway comment.


Wednesday, 23 November 2016

There's something I've been meaning to mention...

So I vaguely hinted several months ago that I wanted to write a post related to Faye's post about her asexuality but then didn't actually write that post for whatever reasons (usually because I'm awful at getting my posts done ahead of when I'm meant to be posting and I didn't really want to rush this one). Yes I may be writing this at 11pm but I can't avoid doing it any longer.

Several of my friends already know this about me as it's something we've discussed at several points over this year, I've gotten more comfortable with owning this aspect of myself although it's probably not something I will be explaining to my parents any time soon because they will likely be a bit confused as to what it means for my long-term relationship. But I digress.

I'm Demisexual. Also Bi (whether sexual/romantic I'm not entirely sure).

Image source

Yeah. That. If you don't happen to frequent the internet bubbles that I usually inhabit, Demisexuality may not be a label that you've come across before. Simply put; if Asexuality is the absence of sexual attraction/desire then Demisexuals reside partway along the spectrum back towards hetero/homo/bi/pan-sexuality. For a super cool comic on Asexuality here's Alice Oseman being staggeringly talented as always.

Demisexuals like me tend to only feel sexual attraction to people we have strong emotional bonds to, e.g. people we're in romantic relationships with. For me it also means that even within a relationship I don't often feel the desire for sex (with a partner anyway but that's another thing...). Until recently this lack of desire bothered me because I thought something was wrong or defective with me that I didn't want to have sex as often as I thought "normal people" should.

I'll be honest, I was fairly late in ditching the imaginary V-card. I was not far off 20 when I "fled the nunnery" as I termed it at the time despite being two and a half years into what ended up as a three year relationship (first of only two long-term bfs, nearing four & a half years with Le Boyf). Not that we were chaste little chaps for all that time but we didn't actually do the entire deed until 2010 and after that no more than a handful of times before we split up.

Then followed 18 months of singledom. Which was fine. When I met for drinks with some school friends during this time they'd lament to me how terrible it was that they'd not had sex for two weeks, I sat there and shrugged saying "talk to me when you're over a year." In actuality I was probably getting off far more than they were and I didn't need or want a bloke for it. I had myself.

I'm sure a lot of Safe Space readers know of Grace Latter and her infamous & brilliant blog post on Female Masturbation. When I read it I was like "yas!" only I was waaaay earlier to this game. At the age of 26 I can actually say that I've been getting mine for half my damn life. All through high school I was never interested in having sex because I didn't really see the need for it when I could dole out my own pleasure as and when I wanted it. No reason to deal with messy teenage boys at all!

In some respects I wonder if this influenced my demisexuality because in the years I wasn't having sex I'd been imagining what it would be like but then when I actually did it, it never felt as mind-blowingly awesome as I'd thought it should and that feeling has persisted. It morphs into anxiety & over-awareness of what I'm feeling and that I'm not enjoying it as much as I think I ought to be which is obviously only going to make me more tense etc.

So I don't have sex very often. And that's totally cool, it doesn't mean I love Le Boyf any less or that our relationship is without physical affection, that's just how I roll as a Demisexual. You get me?

But I should talk about the other flag I fly under. It's become very apparent to me in the last year or two that I don't just find men attractive. I can't tell you how many times I've been scrolling through tumblr, seen a picture of Daisy Ridley and thought "my god, could you *be* any more glorious?" I could start a list of the actresses I find attractive but then this post will be even longer than it is.

Identifying as Bi is slightly more complicated for me as the Demisexual aspect means my attraction to men or women is less "I wanna have sex with you" and more "I am super enthralled by your face/clothes/personality/creative skills and want to mildly stalk you on the internet". Obviously being in a committed long-term relationship means that any attractions I do have will not be acted upon but that doesn't mean I can't flail about on Twitter that I want to marry Kate McKinnon (who doesn't?).

I hope this long-winded tour of my sexuality has cleared up a few things. I know I have confused folk in the past :P It's also really good to get this all out there. *and breathe*

Monday, 21 November 2016

Loving The Winter Season

Winter can be a cold, horrible and miserable time. But instead of using this as an excuse to be miserable ourselves, here at Safe Space we want to share with you some of the things about winter that we absolutely love. The things that you can really only do in the winter and the things that we really look forward to. This is because, as far as we’re concerned, there’s enough in the world to make life difficult, hard and horrible, so why would we ever let the weather make us feel that way too? So without waiting too long in this chilly weather, here are the things that we Safe Spacers love about the winter months...

Faye: Oddly, even though I was born in the middle of summer, I actually hate the season. I find it too hot and I really struggle with overheating. I hate sweating and I basically end up sweating all summer. I get stuffy and uncomfortable and there is never anywhere to go. And thus, Winter has and always will be my favourite season. It’s cold, and the perfect time to snuggle up inside and just feels me with such a heart-warming feel. There are so many things about winter that I absolutely love and most of them are materialistic but a lot of it is just the feeling that fills my entire body. I love hot chocolate while wrapped up in warm clothes, love the way the hot chocolate fills my body with the warmth it craves but also just how wonderful it tastes. I also love the Christmas drinks that get released in all the coffee shops, making coffee exciting as well as warm and tasty. I love snuggling on the sofa in my duvet and watching movies. I love snow. I love the crisp, fresh, cold air. I love that it is a time for spending with friends and family with good spirits and love. I love buying and giving presents to people, showing them how much I appreciate them and love them. Winter is just the best season by far, there is very little about it that I dislike.

Jess: Given the option between summer and winter, I know that most people would choose long hot summer days but I have always favoured the months between October and February, there is so much to look forward to! Halloween, Bonfire Night, Christmas, New Year and then my birthday in January. I love the anticipation of this time of year as one event makes way for the other it seems like there is always something to look forward to. Winter for me is a time to reflect on the year that has passed and what I would like to accomplish the following year. It’s a time for change and fresh starts, for family and friends to come together and put their troubles behind them for a little while. It’s a time to be a little bit kinder and a little more generous than usual towards those closest to us and to strangers. As the leaves start falling and the air gets crisper it always brings a smile to my face because I know that winter and all of the joy that it bring is on its way.

Laura: Winter is my favourite season of the year; whenever I think about the last few months before a New Year dawns all I can envisage is white, frosty pavements, steaming mugs of hot chocolate covered in cream and marshmallows, scented candles flickering in the dusky light, new pyjamas, snuggly blankets and Christmas. There’s something about Winter that compels me to feel safer, warmer and happier than any other time of year which is bizarre as Winter is anything but warm in the UK. I secretly love the fact the days get shorter and I leave work in the dark at heralds the promise of Christmas...and I love Christmas. It means cosy nights snuggled in bed with a book in new pyjamas and Christmas bedding, it means frosty commutes to work and feeling the pavement crunch beneath my feet, it means warming bowls of soup for lunch and red, cold noses. It means happiness. I love winter and everything it entails and I couldn’t imagine living somewhere in the world where Winter wasn’t cold, rainy and dark!

What are your favourite things about the winter months?

Sunday, 20 November 2016

(Not quite 21) Things I've learned in my 21 years.

This week I celebrated my 21st birthday. It was a day filled with friends, cake, Disney movies and all the things I love. My best friends visited me thisweekend and it was just what I needed after the horrible, anxiety-ridden days I had endured the week before (due to the US presidential election). As I feel like a lot of people do on their big birthdays, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned over these years and reflecting on my experiences and I thought I would try to get some of them down in a post. So, here goes.

It’s okay to be single. Really.
I am 21 years old and I have never been in a relationship. Ever. I don’t think I’ve even had so much as a ‘thing’ with anyone. Which for a long time I felt weird about, because when you’re a teenager so much of the media aimed at you involves first love and relationships. But I’ve come to realise recently that it really doesn’t matter. I am perfectly content and happy on my own. This isn’t to say that relationships aren’t great and sure, if the right person comes along I’d be more than happy to enter into one but I’m not worried about whether that happens or not. I’ve got me, and that’s enough.

Things that don’t go according to plan can sometimes surprise you.
I never intended to go to the sixth form I wanted, but it’s what I got stuck with. And yet, I met some amazing people there who I still consider to be my closest friends today. I didn’t want to drop out of University when I was 18, but in the end it gave me the time to deal with my grief and become a far more open and relaxed person. Even the University I’m currently attending wasn’t my first choice, but I’ve ended up really settling in and enjoying life here.

Everyone is problematic.
I, like many people I think, often put certain people (usually celebrities) on pedestals as a child and teenager, thinking they could do no wrong and then was outraged when they said anything that didn’t fit with this perfect image I had of them. Turns out, even the most educated and best intentioned of us will still get it wrong or say something inappropriate sometimes. We’re all human and we make mistakes. It’s how we respond to criticism and calling out that really matters.

Everyone has “stuff” going on in their life.
And you most likely don’t know about it. That doesn’t always excuse shitty behaviour, but it’s something I try and keep in mind when someone is acting a particular way. And people often will be sympathetic to your own situation as well.

It’s okay to cry.
I didn’t cry much as a child at all. I mean, I cried when I got hurt but that’s mostly because it was a knee-jerk reaction. But I never cried at movies or tv shows, or what was happening in my personal life. I’m not sure whether I’ve just become more emotional and empathetic as I’ve gotten older or it’s something else, but I cry a lot more now and it’s good. Instead of keeping all of my emotions reined in until I’m fit to burst, I let myself feel what I’m feeling, and I feel so much better for it.

Sometimes, you’ve got to put yourself first.
This is something I’ve struggled with for YEARS. I’ve spent a lot of my life putting people before me and it could have awful effects on my mental health. I was so scared of being thought of as ‘selfish’ that I would put friends, who were often toxic for me anyway before my own interests. But putting yourself first is NOT selfish – sometimes you just have to take a step back and take care of yourself before anyone else.

There’s a lot more, but those are just some things I’ve observed and come to realise, particularly in the last few years. And even I find putting some of these into practice difficult, especially when society tells us to do the opposite. Most importantly though, I’ve learned we are all growing and changing and learning. And that’s okay.

Friday, 18 November 2016

A New Way Of Living

Earlier this week I read a spectacular blog post by a friend of mine called Zara. (You can read it here). In the post she talks about how important books and words are for her and how they’ve impacted her life, especially as she has recently been diagnosed with Autism. And the post made me look at my own life and how books have helped me.

I’ve always been a lover of books. For as long as I could remember I had my nose stuck in books. From Roald Dahl to Jacqueline Wilson to Karen McCombie to R.L. Stine to Lucy Daniels to J.K. Rowling to Cecelia Ahern to Jodi Picoult to Linwood Barclay. One book after another after another. Diving from one story to the next. I feel lost without the comfort of my books.

When I was a young child until my teens, I read every single night before bed. Devouring the words on the pages as quickly as I could and escaping into fictional worlds that were different and more exotic than my own. Eventually I started reading at other times of the day too. At breaks in school and at work, on the bus, whenever I got a few minutes spare. I would rather dive into a story then sit and think about my life.

And today I do the same thing. But I also don’t. It’s a difficult balance now. There are times when I want to read, so I decide to take the bus or the train rather than drive or walk and then open my phone and end up playing a game or scrolling through twitter because it’s easier than opening my book and exiting the world.

For once in my life, I sometimes find myself rooting my mind in reality. And it has caused a great deal of confusion. Because I am also struggling with life too. So I should want to just escape from it all, surely? And yet I don’t. No matter how much I itch to read, something always seems to stop me.

Once upon a time I would have classed this as a “reading slump”. But now I am trying to embrace it because maybe it means that there is something in the real world that I want to enjoy. Maybe not escaping into a book could actually, somehow be a good thing.

I guess only time will tell. But I am certainly going to try to turn this negative into a positive. Life is already too hard without feeling guilty for not reading a book.