Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Buried in Books

You could say that it's the last day of summer considering how tomorrow is SEPTEMBER (*takes a moment to hyperventilate*) so I feel like today would be a good day to reflect on how I spent this summer.

Simply put - I spent about 75% of the last three months cramming stories into my eyeballs. I read like a book shortage was imminent. I devoured hundreds of pages of words at a pace that would give other people cramps. I poured dozens of chapters of adventures into my brain and it never felt like it was enough to fill the empty well of apathy I've been sat at the bottom of this whole time.

Between the 1st of June and today I've read 86 unique books. That isn't even including the few books that I re-read in that period which I'd already read & counted towards this year's reading total, and the fact that I read the entire Shatter Me series three times through in one weekend in July. In July alone I read 52 books and did very little else.

Reading is my coping mechanism for when I'm feeling truly shit and I've felt shit for most of this Summer. I had great ambitions that I would make amazing progress with my book and really get stuck into rewriting the draft I finished at the end of May. I opted to avoid throwing myself into getting a new job after I left my last one because I thought "hey let's give this whole writing business a fair crack while I don't have uni work to do". But as you might have seen from my constant twitter griping, that plan was brutally shot in the face before June was even out.

I hated that draft I'd spent over two years writing and three WEEKS reading with such violence that I contemplated on many occasions just setting fire to the damn manuscript and forgetting I'd ever subjected the world such a heap of shit (thank fuck the people of the world *haven't* read it, but I'm sure Nature despises me). It's been consigned to a drawer until I decide whether I care enough to take it out ever again.

So as any well-adjusted human-creature would do I decided to bury myself in books, in the metaphorical sense although I do own enough to build myself an actual coffin out of books. I started to read and read and read. Losing days to other worlds and times and stories of people who seemed far more interesting than me. Let's just say that clothing & food were not utilised in the correct manner for large swathes of time.

I suppose I was hoping that one of these books would give me some inspiration of any kind. The jolt of energy to step back into *my* reality and face the problems that I was desperately avoiding dealing with. But none have been the lightning strike I've needed - with perhaps the exception of Alice Oseman's Solitaire & Radio Silence which had me crying in the small hours about how much of myself I saw in those words (a future post will be looking into the thoughts that Radio Silence provoked at 1am last week).

But now as we stand on the cusp of September I know that I need to act my goddamn age and do something about the situation I'm in. I have what should be my last OU module starting in October so I need to get my head around not fucking that up (since it's another Creative Writing module I'm already anxious enough that I won't have any ideas worth writing let alone submitting for marking).

I know I need to get a job because my bank account is gasping and I can't spend another three months in this house alone & getting nothing done. It turns out that having little free time is when I'm actually most productive so I gotta work on getting myself employed ASAP. Who the fuck knows what job but it's gotta happen.

I also need to read less and probably see a doctor or something...y'know to deal with that whole depression issue that I've been carefully avoiding for weeks...

Monday, 29 August 2016

Music is the Strongest form of Magic

As far as I can remember, I always have been a music lover. As a child I used to record songs from the radio onto cassette (yes, I am that old). Half the fun was trying to get the timing perfect so you had no silly radio DJ talking at the beginning or end, just pure music. My sister and I used to make up dance routines to music videos, and I went to dance classes. Even now, the songs I spent hours learning the choreography too still stick in my head. 

When somebody asks that famous question of your favourite music, my answer is that I have eclectic tastes. How can you answer with just one song or genre? It's impossible. Sometimes the music just gets to you, and you have no choice. 

More recently, I realised that I actually listen to music quite a lot. I stick my earphones in as soon as I leave the house, and they’re with me for my whole commute, whilst shopping, whilst driving, whilst sleeping, whilst blogging. I just love my life to have a soundtrack.


But is most important to me is how I can use music as a form of escapism. It’s a way to distance myself from the thoughts in my head but also the world. I don’t have to think about the crowded commute or be distracted by the people around me. It helps me to focus, and to zone out some of the anxieties and madness going on inside. 

I recently broke a pair of headphones in the middle of the day, and it shocked me how much it affected me. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would cope, and I became ultra aware of all my surroundings, and all the things I usually blocked out. Needless to say, I immediately went out and bought another pair. I need my safety blanket of headphones. 

On the flip side, music connects me to the world. I love discovering new artists through recommendations, and creating playlists with my friends. I like dancing to songs and feeling that moment when you can just belt out your favourite tune. To be at a gig for your favourite band, and stand singing along with everyone in the crowd, those moments are indescribable. I feel like part of something big and united and it makes something fizzle inside me.

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What is amazing is that everyone has a different story, a different experience. Maybe it's the song you first danced to at your wedding, or had your first kiss. The song of the summer, or that tune you just can’t get out of your head. 

Music is my calmness, my alternate reality when things get too harsh in life. I love that I can just take a step back into the world of headphones, and zone out for a little while. My little world away from the world.

I've made a little playlist of a few of my current favourites. If you bump into me, it's likely I'm bopping along to one of these.

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Friday, 26 August 2016

One Step At A Time

So you all read this post, right? Where I explained how my entire life has recently been turned upside down and I had to go from being really active to barely able to walk for five minutes without dying. It's been tough. Emotionally and physically for me. There have been times when I've wanted to just give up on trying to be better and just stay in bed all day. Times when I've felt guilty for not being able to walk up the stairs and having to take the lift, guilty for asking someone I'm with if we could slow down or stop because I felt unable to carry on. 

I have also spent a lot of time wondering if I'm making a big thing out of a small thing. That maybe I am just unfit and causing a fuss.

And I keep going back to that thought.

Over and over again.

And it is because I am starting to get better. I still am nowhere near where I was. I am still scared of even trying to work a full time job and there is no way I could walk to and from work or go out jogging again but I am not the same person I was in January wherein I had to spend days in bed to recover from small activities.

So because I'm getting better, and I'm starting to feel better. I wanted to just write a quick post on here to tell you about some of the things that I've achieved lately that I've been proud of. Things that seven-eight months ago, I never would have managed. Because then I can show to you and also to myself, that I am on the road to recovery. I may never get to where I was but if I keep working, I might get somewhere near to it.

  1. I can climb the three flights of stairs at work without crying out in pain.
  2. I can walk for a good half hour before I need to slow down.
  3. I can carry heavy piles of books and/or bags again
  4. I don't feel as achy when I wake up in the morning
  5. I don't feel as achy after driving for 30minutes.
  6. Yesterday I climbed the equivalent of 15 flights of stairs and while I was out of breath, my legs and hips did not hurt until 4 hours later. Which is unheard of.
Of course, with all those amazing achievements, I still have things that I do now or cannot do now that I used to be able to, such as:

  1. If I've been driving for a long time, my left arm is more comfortable in my lap then on the steering wheel, giving my muscle a break.
  2. I still cringe at the idea of running and how much my muscles will hurt me for the task.
  3. If I don't do my physio exercises, I can struggle to get out of bed.
  4. I am still incredibly exhausted most days.
  5. When I have done too much, I can barely get up out of the chair as I hurt all over.
  6. I'm still getting bizarre and annoying pains in my fingers and knuckles.
I am not 100% okay but I am better than I was and I am so happy about it. If I could get to a point where I could job for 10mins once a week, I think I will be happy with life again. That is my ultimate goal and I am going to make it. I'm sure of it.

It's all just about taking it one step at a time.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Little Miracles

A few weeks ago Laura wrote a really fantastic post here on Safe Space about Milestones and how they change when you have a mental illness. This got me thinking about my own milestones and the progress I’ve made with my mental health recently. This past year I have really been pushing myself, but with every success that little voice in my head says

“Oh, that’s nothing to be proud of! People do that every day!”

And so I’d bury those feelings of pride and tell myself that my achievements were nothing. For years I have listened to that little voice so that it got to the point where I felt embarrassed that I’d actually consider the things I do to be achievements.

“Have you won an award?” that little voice would whisper “Bought a new house? Gotten engaged? No? Then shut up and sit down” It would tell me.

My achievements felt minuscule compared to what other people my age are doing with their lives but they weren’t small, in fact, they were massive.

I talked about these feelings with my counsellor who pointed out that some of the things that I am doing now felt impossible when I first came to see her and that is the word I used, impossible.

I fully believed that there were certain things that I would never be able to do again. The things that I’ve been doing recently are more than just milestones, they carry more weight than that, they’re miracles. If you told me a year ago the things I am doing now I would have laughed in your face and said “Yeah, when pigs fly!” because it seemed that miraculous to me. Yet here I am, making my own little miracles happen every day.

After this conversation with my counsellor, I decided to start documenting my mental health achievements in a journal. It didn’t take me long to fill an entire page. From smaller things like not washing my hands or sanitizing before eating, to bigger things like going somewhere that triggers PTSD memories. After ten minutes of frantically scribbling, I put down my pen and took a good hard look at all of my achievements and in that moment I let the pride that I always pushed down inside of me swell up into one big burst of sunshine.

Since that day a few weeks ago I have been trying to teach myself that it is okay to celebrate my little miracles. Instead of brushing them off as nothing, I have been telling my friends and family when I’ve managed to push past my anxiety and achieve something. I’ve been having mini solo celebrations with cake and a good book as a reward for being brave. But most importantly I have continued to document my successes and keep adding things to that list so that instead of letting my miracles float away unrecognised, I am catching hold of them like fireflies and appreciating the beauty of them in the few minutes that it takes for me to write each achievement down.

Every little miracle that I’ve made happen is now solid, documented and recognised by me for what it is. Each one is a vital step on my own personal mental health mountain, and one day when I reach the top of that mountain, I’ll be able to look back at all of those little miracles and gaze out into the distance at the steep slopes and jagged rocks that I overcame to get to this moment, I bet it will be a beautiful view.

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Sunday, 21 August 2016

Bloody Periods

Let’s talk periods.

I’m SO bored of seeing adverts on TV for sanitary towels or tampons where women are galloping around with short white skirts on, having the time of their lives whilst on their period. Don’t get me wrong…I’m sure there are some goddesses out there who manage it but seriously, WTF. When I have my period the last thing I want to do is be moving around with any vigour plus wearing something that could easily show up period stains is a HUGE no no in my book.

I mean, maybe I just fail badly at periods as I’ve touched on before, but really? REALLY?

I wanted to share with you some of my period fails with you today so that you can feel less alone when you may experience a slight period malfunction. Perhaps these stories are TMI and perhaps they’re not but what they are is REAL. They’re things that happened to me, that I had to style out awkwardly and they still haunt me today because learning about periods is not the same as learning about YOUR periods. Until your body gets into the swing of things you will SO not be prepared and I found that out the hard way…

I can still vaguely remember when I first got my period. I was a weird teenager who was desperately hoping my period would arrive. I was so jealous of all the girls around me who were proudly whispering about tampons and I felt so immature and unwomanly compared to them. LOL I TAKE IT BACK I DON’T NEED PERIODS AT ALL. It was after school and I was part of the trampoline club which met once a week to bounce around for the fun of it. I went to the toilet just before the club started and saw a small spot of blood in my pants. I panicked straight away wondering what it was before thinking ‘OH MY GOD, IS THIS MY PERIOD?! YAY YAY YAY!’ I stuffed some toilet roll in my pants and told one of my friends that I thought my period had started. Luckily she had a spare 50p or £1(I can’t remember which) to shove into the slot of the sanitary towel dispenser hanging on the toilet wall and that was my first ever experience of sanitary towels…that first time I put one on it felt like a nappy and I was CONVINCED that everyone would know I was wearing it. 

I got home that evening from the trampoline club and for some reason, even though my mum was really open and honest about everything from periods to sex, I was too scared to tell her. So I text her instead (lol) and said ‘I think my period has started.’ She came upstairs to my bedroom and smiled and we had a chat and that was my womanliness activated.

However it wasn’t plain sailing from there. I had very heavy periods; I think this was mainly due to my genes…my mum told me her periods were very heavy so I guess that might be why?! I do remember going to the doctor about them at one point but he didn’t seem worried so I guess that was a good thing…! But I wasn’t really prepared for HOW heavy they would be.

The most mortifying and probably TMI experience with my period was in a music lesson at school. I was wearing a pink Bodyform sanitary towel which is sort of the low-medium absorption and at the time I thought this was plenty sufficient to keep my flow in check. OH GURL. I remember throughout the lesson feeling like my pants were soaking wet and really, really heavy. Almost like there was a wet flannel resting in my pants. I thought nothing of it…I’d only really just started having periods so I assumed that was what it was meant to feel like. Oh how wrong my poor young self was. 

By the end of the lesson I knew something had gone catastrophically wrong. I could smell my own period; I could feel wetness between my thighs. Something was very very wrong. I stood up at the end of the lesson and holy hell, the chair was a STATE. I had pretty much leaked all over the chair. So I rapidly sat back down and panicked thinking what the fuck am I supposed to do?! I waited until everyone else was walking out of the door before I stood up and made a quick run for the door. The music teacher did say ‘Is everything alright Laura?’ at which point I should have said ‘I’M SO SORRY I JUST HAD A PERIOD ALL OVER ONE OF YOUR CHAIRS.’ But instead I ran to the toilet and assessed the damage in my pants. Oh wow, it was literally like an explosion. I’d never seen anything like it before and I was so embarrassed. Bearing in mind at this point my whole class were already on the way to our history lesson in the other building. I was sitting in a toilet cubicle pressing toilet paper into my trousers to soak up all the rogue blood. I wasn’t brave enough to go to the school office and ask a woman to HELP ME SORT MY PERIOD OUT because I thought they’d laugh me out of there. So I did the best I could. I stuck a new sanitary towel to my bloody pants and hot footed it to my next lesson where I spent the entire time sat on my blazer so as not to get the chair covered in my period. Luckily it was the last lesson before the end of the day so as soon as the bell rang I flung my bag over my shoulder and lengthened the strap so that it was long enough to cover my bum and speedily walked home to deal with the disaster that had happened.

Oh god, I cringe so much when I think about just running away from that chair but I just couldn’t face telling someone that I couldn’t period.

To be fair, most of my other embarrassing period stories revolve around chairs at school and a far too low absorbency sanitary towel. There was one time when I was in a biology lesson at the end of the day and I REALLY needed to change my pad but I knew that if I stood up then people would see me leaking so instead I waited until the end of the lesson, thinking I could surreptitiously just quickly wipe any leak on the chair up with a tissue. So when the end of the lesson came and we had to stack our lab stools up I panicked thinking OH GOD PEOPLE WILL SEE WHAT I’VE DONE. I quickly jumped up, just as one of the girls in my class looked down at my chair and saw my small leak. I gave her a pleading look to pretend nothing had happened and quickly stacked my stool underneath another one so no one would know it was me. OH THE SHAME.

I wasn’t ready to start using tampons at this point. I’d never had sex, nothing had ever been IN my vagina before so I wasn’t ready to stick something up there…and even now I much prefer using sanitary towels. (Although if I’m out/working/not lazing around the house I tend to use tampons for the fact they’re less likely to leave me with a massively stained crotch. YAY FOR TAMPONS)

It took me a good few years until I really got into the swing of my own body and learned how to cope with my periods. For the past few years I’ve been on and off contraception so I haven’t really had a proper period in a long time. Which sort of sucks because even though I hate periods, there’s a small part of me that loves the feeling of awesome womanliness that surrounds me when I’m on my period. Just me?

Also, over the years I’ve managed to create the best period survival kit that I carry around with me ALL THE TIME just in case. It's a large pencil case/make up bag that I put the following things into:
  • -          Six tampons: two regular, two super, two super- duper- fuck-me-you-have-a-heavy-period
  • -          Four towels: one regular with wings, two super plus with wings, one night time mega huge towel
  • -          A handful of nappy sacks (perfect for when you’re in a bathroom with no sanitary bin)
  • -          A spare pair of pants just in case things get SERIOUSLY bad down there
  • -          A few pantyliners
  • -          And some tissues just in case the toilet you’re using doesn’t have any

Ever since creating my little period kit I never ever ended up having a panic moment where I thought OH GOD MY PERIOD HAS STARTED AND I HAVE NOTHING ON ME. Every single bag I owned had a few towels and tampons stashed into the zip pocket at the back. And every time I went to school or went out, I would put the period bag into my bag so it was always there…just in case. Plus it was always handy when someone was in a panic and needed to borrow a tampon or pad…I had plenty to go around! Plus it didn’t look embarrassing or obvious in my bag…it just looked like a make up bag or pencil case...

Coming full circle, as I mentioned about the adverts, I just want to say that periods don’t have to look like that. Periods can be messy and unpredictable and a bit scary. But that’s OK. We shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about that side of periods. Sure, some women have super light periods and don’t have to worry about white trousers or getting a leakage. But some of us women do and that’s FINE. It’s normal. It’s life. I bet every woman has at least one embarrassing period story to tell. So if you find yourself having a slight problem with your next period YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And if you’ve only just started your periods or are yet to start them…don’t worry. No woman got it right straight away. It’s all about learning how your own body works and going with the flow (lol, soz.)

(Also, don’t be ashamed to talk about periods. It’s just another fucking amazing thing that your body does.) 


Friday, 19 August 2016

When Your Mum Becomes Your Friend

Mother and DaughterToday, I want to talk about my mum and my relationship with her. As a child and teenager, both my parents were pretty strict. My brother and I had rules and boundaries, and neither of my parents would take any crap from us. No-one likes their parents really laying in to them, right? So we were pretty well behaved children (apart from the odd fight between ourselves). Which led to us getting on pretty well with our parents as youngsters. And like mums are, Mum was always there; when we'd fallen over and hurt ourselves, when we needed help with our homework, and when we just needed someone to talk to.

I don't know at what age my relationship with Mum changed, but it did. Sometime in my late teens, I'd guess, Mum stopped being simply My Parent and became my friend. That might sound kind of corny, but it's important to me, and something I'm so grateful for. There are a lot of people out there who don't have great relationships with their parents, and I'm just so glad that I do.

Mum is my mother, and I am her daughter, but we have the kind of personalities that just work well together. Mum had me a month before her 19th birthday, so there isn't a huge age gap, and although in some ways we're pretty different, in others we are pretty similar. We both make the effort to find time for each other, and will have days out, whether it's going to the cinema, going shopping, or going out for a meal. Other times, we'll plan nights in. We'll get a take away, buy some goodies, and watch a movie. It's not just so we can have some mother/daughter time, but because we genuinely enjoy each others company.

There's the added bonus that because we're mother and daughter we can trust each other to be honest when asking the other for advice or their opinion, when it comes to something small like outfit choices, or for help making a tough decision (though, to be honest, that is more me asking than Mum). I love how I can talk to my mum about anything, not just as my mother, but also as my friend. Depending on the subject, sometimes she'll be in full-on mother mode if she's worrying about me - after all, I am her baby - but she will also talk to me as a fellow woman. We'll have deep discussions about topics we feel are important, and sometimes we'll disagree, and sometimes we'll educate each other. Sometimes Mum will give me the perspective of someone with more experience, and sometimes I'll give that of someone a little younger, for a generation where things are changing when, for example, it comes to society's attitudes about women.

As you can tell, I've always been pretty close to my mum, but I have appreciated our relationship more since my nan died. Mum was close to Nan, and Nan's death, though expected, broke her heart. She no longer has her mum, which makes me even more grateful that I have mine and that our relationship is so wonderful, yet so sad that she no longer has that mother-friend in her life. It's made me think about the inevitable moment when I will lose my mum, and how absolutely devastating it will be. But then I remember I still have her, and fully revel in the time we spend together.

I don't think there's anything quite like a mother-daughter relationship, but that relationship becomes even more special when you can call your mother your friend.

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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Express Yourself, Don't Wreck Yourself

It's a fact that people might not be aware of if you haven't met me in person - I'm not all that great at expressing myself verbally. I come across more eloquently in text (At least I hope I do). I know I certainly try to appear that way. Face-to-face my true nature is uncomfortably noticeable.

I have a habit of saying stuff then later wondering why the hell I said it, I often share information that I'm pretty sure the person I'm speaking to doesn't really care to hear. I'm overly honest even when that's probably a stupid thing to do. To top it off- I stutter and it worsens when I'm flustered or nervous so while I can get the words out I end up saying them three or four times before I'm sure I've said them right.

Sometimes the words end up car crashing entirely in my mouth and I have to take a breath and have another run at them. Everything always tries to come barreling out at top speed like I'll forget what I wanted to say if I take the time to get each word out correctly. Which inevitably makes things worse.

There are situations where I don't make quite so much of a mess when I'm speaking - usually when I'm talking to family and close friends I can express myself without mangling everything into an incoherent jangle of syllables. But around new people I'm usually far quieter or I won't really speak at all just so I don't embarrass myself by stuttering something stupid.

I'll admit I mentally rehearse things to say, I'll daydream whole conversations for situations that may never happen just in case I may one day have a need to say those words. It doesn't always help. I mentioned in my post before last about how I saw two writerly people I know from twitter while I was out but couldn't muster up the courage to say hello. Part of why I didn't is because I was worried they would think I was intruding but another was that I wasn't confident that I could introduce myself without stuttering and stumbling my way into utter mortification.

One of the more unfortunate types of situations that I notice myself struggling to speak like a sane human is when I meet authors at signings. I seem to be unable to make sensible comments while getting books signed and have on several occasions blathered random shit that I've later regretted so much that I've mentally banned myself from saying anything should I meet that author again.

I don't tend to ask authors about their books while getting them signed, mostly because my memory is usually a shambles so I don't want to look like an idiot by remembering something wrongly and asking a ridiculous question. This leaves me with either standing there in awkward silence or gushing incoherently about how much I enjoyed the book/admire the author which I never want to do even if I am internally fangirling like hell. Which is how I always seem to end up rambling about something wholly unconnected with anything relevant to the situation at hand.

Here on the internet I can hide my difficulties behind careful constructions of words and sentences, spend hours typing, deleting and retyping my thoughts until they properly represent what my brain is trying to say. It's often far easier to "say" things on paper than it is to shape the sounds and throw them out into the air. My throat holds onto the words that it's scared to give voice to, no matter how much I may *need* to say them, once they're spoken they can't be crammed back into my mouth like they never existed. In writing it doesn't quite feel like the thoughts are real which makes them less scary to type I guess.

I'm sure I'm not entirely alone in these feelings and anxiety about expressing myself. Other people might find speaking aloud a breeze and instead quiver at the thought of writing about themselves. For some music or art are the only ways they can accurately express what they are feeling as words both spoken and scribbled are simply inadequate. It's just a matter of discovering what best suits you.

I'm still trying to figure that out for myself, but writing is what feels most comfortable for now. Even though I don't always feel like I'm all that good at this whole business of stringing sentences together into a cohesive narrative. I suppose I need more practice.

Monday, 15 August 2016

10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Diagnosed With Anxiety

I’ve been living with anxiety for over ten years now and I’ve learnt a lot about it and myself along the way. When I was first diagnosed, I remember being very scared and was given very little information about what having this mental illness meant for me from health care professionals. Looking back there is so much that I wish somebody had told me when I was first diagnosed, so today I wanted to share with you the ten things I wish I knew when I was first diagnosed with anxiety.

Panic Attacks Can’t Kill You 
Even though it really feels like you’re dying sometimes, panic attacks can’t actually kill you. My first therapist told me that most panic attacks usually don’t last longer than 20 minutes. Knowing this made having a panic attack a slightly less terrifying prospect and made them lose some of the power they had over me.

Avoidance Makes Things Worse
When I first developed anxiety, I quickly learnt that a great way to not feel anxious was to completely avoid the things that made me scared which later developed into agoraphobia. Although it’s really tempting to hide away from the things that scare you so that you don’t have to deal with them, it usually just makes the anxiety surrounding the situation worse. Every time you avoid a situation that makes you anxious you are feeding that belief. In my treatment for anxiety, I have learnt that the only way to get over a fear is to become familiar with it and create positive associations and memories around it. It takes a lot of courage to take that first step, but every time you face a fear it loses some of its power and gets easier the next time around.

Medication/Therapy Won’t Change Who You Are 
I used to be so afraid of the idea of taking medication for my anxiety or telling a therapist my deepest darkest thoughts and feelings. I was worried that by treating the mental illness it would mean changing a part of me. I wish I knew how much taking medication and going to therapy would help me so that I would have done it sooner. Medication and therapy has not changed who I am, it hasn’t messed with my brain and made me into an unfeeling zombie. It’s simply made me a less anxious person who can better manage their mental illness.

Not Everyone Will Understand 
The biggest frustration for me when I was first diagnosed with anxiety was how little the people around me seemed to understand about it. For many years my family were at a loss for what to do to help me, they just couldn’t understand why I was terrified of such normal mundane things. Something that really helped things click into place for my family was when I explained mental health in metaphors and related it to the way we treat physical health. Give the people around you time, be as open and honest as you feel comfortable with, pull information from the internet and learn as much about your illness as you can so that you can better explain it. The people you love might not always understand, but them asking questions and wanting to know more shows good intentions and is a starting point so don’t lose heart.

Take Baby Steps
The best method in confronting anxiety for me has been to break things down into baby steps. Scared to walk down the street? Start by just opening your front door. Increase how long you can keep that door open for. When you start to feel more comfortable, take a step outside. Work up to taking three steps away from your house. When you’re ready, walk to the nearest lamppost. See what I’m getting at here?

When it comes to facing your fears you don’t have to dive in at the deep end. Start with the step that feels the most doable to you and work your way up to the bigger stuff at your own pace. It doesn’t matter if it takes a week or a month or even longer to achieve your goal, you’re still kicking anxiety’s butt. Make sure that you celebrate your successes no matter how small they may seem, they’re each a step in the right direction.

Bad Days Are Allowed 
I used to worry so much if I was having a bad day/week/month with my anxiety that it meant that I was going backward. Now I’ve learned that it is completely normal and okay to have a bad day. Even people who don’t have a mental illness have bad days. Life isn’t perfect and there will be ups and downs along the way. These days, if I’m hit with a bad bout of anxiety I try to ride it out like a wave and if I have to take things back a step because everything suddenly seems too hard that is okay. Go back to your easiest step and start building yourself back up again.

Put Yourself First 
Like any illness, when you are unwell it is important that you prioritise and put yourself first. I used to feel really terrible if I had to cancel plans or let somebody down because my mental health was bad but now I realise that on the grand scale of things your health is more important. Never push yourself to do something you don’t feel ready to do for somebody else. Respect yourself, your boundaries and your health and don’t be afraid to take time out to rest and look after yourself.

Mental Illness Does Not = Crazy/Dangerous 
Oh boy, when I was first diagnosed with a mental illness I was so afraid to tell anyone in case they thought that I was crazy and/or dangerous. There is a really negative belief out there about people with mental illnesses and that they might pose a threat or be a danger to society. I used to be really frightened of myself and what I might be capable of. Having a mental illness does not make you dangerous or crazy. You are not about to go on a murderous rampage just because you are ill. So many people are living and functioning in this world with a mental illness. If having a mental illness turned us all by default into the crazy killer stereotype that horror writers are so fond of portraying then the world would be apocalyptic right about now.

Living Life Trumps Fear
Something that I have learnt only recently is that fear is not a good enough reason for me to not live the life I want to, not anymore. Every time that I have felt like I was going to pass out from panic but carried on anyway it has been worth it.

Every. Single. Time.

When it comes to doing the things I want to and living my life, fear is not a good enough reason to hold me back. I would rather be terrified and get to do what I want to, than let anxiety dictate what I can and can’t do. My life is of more value to me than fear.

You Will Get Better 
You know, people used to say this to me and I never believed them. I couldn’t imagine ever getting rid of this albatross that I carry around with me everywhere. Here’s the secret, when people say you will get better they don’t mean that your anxiety will get better, they mean that YOU will get better at managing it.

Ten years on from my diagnosis and I am still living with anxiety, it hasn’t gone away completely and to be honest, I don’t think it ever will. But *I* have gotten better. I have gotten better at dealing with it, I have gotten better at putting myself first, I have gotten better at riding out a panic attack, and I have gotten better at facing my fears. It takes time, but you come to learn your illness and how it affects you and at first you begin to cope and then you begin to thrive. Anxiety doesn’t get better, but you do my friend, you do.

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Sunday, 14 August 2016

My Journey with Anxiety

About 20 months ago, I dropped out of University. There were a multitude of reasons this, but the biggest was probably my rapidly deteriorating mental health and anxiety.

I had my first panic attack on the evening of the 8th of January 2015. I won’t go into details but due to also being a hypochondriac I came to the conclusion that I was dying, went to a hospital less than 8 hours before my English exam for them to tell me that no, I was not dying, and that my body had just panicked a bit. It was probably due to my exam and other things going on in my life at the time, and that it would probably be a one off experience.

For the next 6 months, I had a panic attack almost every single day.

There were days when I would have up to five or six in a day, days when all I would do is go from my bed to the sofa downstairs and back up again in the evening. I was terrified to leave my house, terrified to be separated from my safe place and my safe people. I was exhausted all the time due to my body being constantly on edge and my appetite decreased dramatically. I was miserable and scared, and what was worse was that nobody was taking me seriously. Doctors fobbed me off with anxiety meds but no diagnosis, my dad would tell me to ‘just calm down and stop worrying’. If you have any experience with anxiety, you know this is the worst thing to say.

Over those six months, through a combination of therapy and learning to recognise my thought processes, the panic somewhat lessened. I went from 5 panic attacks a day to one. I got a job in a fast food restaurant in my local town which gave me a purpose and something to keep my mind occupied, although there were many nights I ended up calling my dad on my breaks sobbing that I couldn’t make it through my shift.

With time and therapy though, I began to understand what was happening to me. I learned that when the panic kicked in, my brain was thinking illogically and that by doing sums or counting I could force my brain to think logically to help me calm down. I figured out what my triggers were, things including large crowds of people in a small space, heights, illness and feeling generally out of control. By understanding my triggers and what to do when my anxiety was running high, my panic attacks became somewhat less frequent and more manageable.

In June 2015, I went to the USA for three months. I spent two months working at a summer camp and one month travelling. In my time there, I had one, very minor panic attack in a Walmart that I managed to get a hold of within 2 minutes. With the stress of camp dynamics and having a job where I was ‘On’ for 22 hours a day, I didn’t really have the time to panic, and so my anxiety took a back seat.

When I returned home in September of last year, everything was great. I managed to get a job within a month and I was much calmer and more relaxed than I had been before I went. Around December however, the panic attacks started returning.

They were small at first, things I could handle with two minutes and a sit down in the stock room. But then at the end of a shift in about April a major one hit. Luckily it came on about 5 minutes before I had to clock out so I rode it out and immediately went into the changing rooms to do my counting and breathing exercises that always brought me back eventually. It took me half an hour to calm down, and I spent the rest of the evening in bed because I was so exhausted.

Thankfully, I haven’t had a big one since then. I still sometimes can feel my heart racing or feel a bit dizzy, but I can usually intervene with the exercises I’ve learned help me before it escalates. However in about a month I will be returning to University, thrown into a city I don’t know with people I don’t know and I’m scared it’s going to flare up again. I’m well aware that these past few months have been a good patch and that I will probably be dealing with anxiety for the rest of my life. But that’s ok; hopefully through understanding my triggers, therapy and knowing what works to calm me down, I can take on University and life and not let my anxiety hold me back in the process.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Finding The Balance

One of the things that is often mentioned when you talk about stress is that you need to find your work-life balance. You shouldn't be a work-a-holic because it impacts your social life. But you mustn't be too social as it'll impact your working life. You have to find the perfect balance to sort out your life and make you feel less stressed and more at peace with the world.

And I do agree.

To an extent.

As someone who is particularly struggling with work at the moment for many, many reasons, finding the work-life balance has been incredibly difficult for me. I want to go out and be social and have fun but I also know that work will stress me out and tire me out and actually all I'll really want to do is be on my own and sleep the evening away. And thus, if I let it, my life could easily become work, sleep, work, sleep and nothing else. Not exactly a great work-life balance, eh?

So, to counter this issue, I plan. I plan trips away. I plan evenings out. I plan trips to the cinema and meet ups with friends and day plans and weekend plans. I aim to keep my life from just being about work and sleep. I aim to see friends and family, to use these moments to keep my brain (as) sane as it can be. Because if I didn't then surely I would crumble. I would be too stressed. I'd overwork my brain and I'd have nothing to keep my mood from deflating back into depression.

The problem that I currently have with my life balance is that I am doing it all wrong for my personal circumstances. If you remember, I spoke in this post about how I'm currently chronically tired. I get tired more often, my muscles scream at me consistently and I am basically just struggling to function as a normal human being. Add in a healthy dose of anxiety and you might just see why my life balance needs to be more than just work and social outings. 

But I seem to be unable to grasp this fact.

It is almost like my brain is in a complete and utter state of denial over my current predicament. No, it tells me, you don't need that day to rest, you'll be fine. Make plans for that day or that evening and enjoy yourself. You can rest when you're dead.

And so I listen. And I plan. And I plan. And I plan.

And then, because my body isn't this amazing perfect shell, I usually have to cancel. A lot. And every single time I do, I feel guilty. I promised that I would be there. I'm letting someone down because my brain and body are not co-operating. And then I work myself up so that essentially I can't relax and give my body the rest it so badly needs in the first place.

So from here on in, I want to continue to strive to plan but now, I also need to plan rest days and rest evenings. I need to plan the time that I'm going to switch off from the world and just let my brain and my body re-cooperate. I need to before I ruin my body any further.

And then maybe, just maybe, I can find my life balance.

Monday, 8 August 2016

6 Month Anniversary: What Safe Space Has Taught Us

Today marks the 6th month anniversary of Safe Space and boy has time flown! Since starting Safe Space I’ve definitely gone on a journey and changed as a person and so today to celebrate the 6 month mark, the Safe Space team are sharing how being a part of Safe Space has changed them and what we’ve learnt about ourselves along the way.

Jess: I can’t believe that Safe Space is already six months old! I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved in that time and am excited to see what is to come in the next six months. When I first had the idea for this blog, I had a very clear vision in my mind of what I wanted this website to be and I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to work with some wonderful women who have already made that dream a reality.

Since creating Safe Space, I have learnt so much about both blogging and myself. I’ve learned new skills, how to write personal articles and how to manage and organize a team. But what has stuck with me the most is what I have learnt from reading the posts written by my co-bloggers. I’ve learnt about their individual experiences as women, how they grew up, and the things they’ve struggled with in life. As I’ve gotten to know each of them a little better through their posts over time, I have learnt that I am not alone with my thoughts and feelings. Before starting this blog I never could have imagined how many times I would read a post and relate so strongly to what’s been said. Online it’s very easy to only see the highlights of other people's lives, you never get to know what is really going on behind the scenes, you don’t get to see those days of self-doubt and insecurity, nobody wants to document the bad days. I feel very honored that so many women have shared their personal experiences on this blog and I’m proud of the supportive and honest space we have created together that doesn’t shy away from showing the good, the bad and the ugly of growing up as a woman.

I think the most important thing that Safe Space has taught me is that I have a voice. I have thoughts and opinions that mean something and when shared with other people, have the power to change things. Being able to be so open and honest and get such fantastic feedback has given me more confidence in myself and what I have to say. Safe Space has taught me so much in such a short time and I’m looking forward to seeing what else I learn about myself in the future.

Faye: The first thing I feel I should mention on this post is that I almost didn’t join Safe Space. When Jess first advertised looking for bloggers I was unsure if I could commit to it but then Jess finally, somehow, talked me round until I agreed and I am so glad she did because Safe Space is a blog that I love so much. It has taught me so much, I’ve grown in confidence both in person and online, I feel like I’m a much better person now than I was six months ago and while that isn’t all down to this blog, I know that a lot of it is because of this blog.

For example, six months ago I never would have gone out to a restaurant alone and I have now done this three times (thank you Debbie!), I never would have had the guts to come out of the closet (yay!), I never would have had the confidence to start wearing dresses again (thank you Jess!) or to not shave for a long time (thank you Jo!) or to even consider not wearing a bra (thank you Caitlin!). I have learnt so much from all of the amazing women who are a part of the Safe Space team and I feel like I can call them my friends too. They’re all so inspiring and wonderful.

In the last six months, I also believe (correct me if I’m wrong!), my writing has grown stronger as I become more confident of stepping into the limelight and shining it brightly on all of my issues. I feel stronger, prouder, and less alone. So for that, I just want to thank Jess again for creating Safe Space and for helping to convince me to join the team.

Laura: Woweee! Six months?! It feels like yesterday I started as part of the Safe Space Team. But what a lovely six months it has been; the ladies in this team feel like close friends and I love them all so much!

The biggest thing I’ve learnt during my time writing for Safe Space is that you really can’t ever judge a person because you will never know what’s going on behind the scenes in their life. I always like to think I’m very empathetic and try my hardest to be non-judgemental about every facet of my life but sometimes it’s hard. However Safe Space has constantly reminded me that just because people look like they’ve got their shit together, they might actually not have said shit together at all. I’ve been so proud of the stories, experiences and love that has been shared through the 100 posts we’ve managed to write so far! I feel so lucky to know such an inspiring, brave and beautiful team of women and know that even though they’ve been through hell and back, they’re still smiling, still going and willing to share their experiences with others in the hope that it’ll help someone else.

Personally, I’ve found writing a lot of the posts to be a very cathartic experience allowing me to re-live memories or talk about how I’m feeling without censoring myself at all. I’ve always found writing helps me to sort my head out and gives me a chance to explore how I feel and I’ve learnt a lot about myself in the past half a year whilst writing my posts. I feel like Safe Space is a genuinely safe place to talk about things without fear of judgement or ridicule and I am so thankful to Jess for starting up such a great place on the internet!

Long live Safe Space!!

Ray: Over the last 6 months I have written 11 posts for Safe Space and honestly? Sometimes I’m still not sure if I deserve to be be part of this team of amazing women who write so brilliantly and eloquently on such important subjects. I said as much in my first post and the feeling has never entirely gone away.

Blogging for Safe Space has been a painfully cathartic experience at times and I’m not sure if I’m a better person for it...yet. It’s fairly safe for me to say that this year has been a slow slide into the worst period of mental health that I can recall. I spent most of July tearing through books like they were giving me oxygen and finally cracked the tightly-sealed bottle of “shit I don’t talk about to anyone” enough to actually admit that I was feeling like hell to some of the most important people in my life.

I do think that being a part of Safe Space has helped me in that I’ve felt less alone with some of the mess in my head and it’s given me the confidence to open up to other people when before I would have simply bottled up my darker thoughts and feelings so I didn’t bother anyone with them. But I think there’s still quite a way to go for me - hopefully my fellow Safe Spacers will continue to inspire me to take the steps I need to get myself back on more stable ground. Here’s to the next 100 posts.

Debbie: Most of the time I still feel like a Safe Space fraud, as my posts are so far between, and also I don’t feel they are half as amazing as the other girls, but I am so grateful to be part of the team. One of the things that has surprised me most about the past six months is how much I’ve learnt. Not just factual things such as about feminism or medication, but also personally about my fellow bloggers and those I am lucky enough to call my friends. It has definitely brought me closer to my lovely flatmate Faye, as we have often hashed out Safe Space ideas together and talked about our worries and fears about posts. Every month I still panic about what to write and whether it will be good enough or important enough, but if I am taking away anything from the 6 months of Safe Space it is this: just be brave, in whatever way you feel comfortable with. I’ve witnessed the other girls take so many amazing steps, and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Jo: I can’t believe six months has gone by already! It feels like we’ve been blogging together for forever, but also feels like it’s flown by!

Safe Space has done so much for me as a writer. I’d had my own writing/lifestyle blog, Jo’s Scribbles, for maybe a little over a year before joining Safe Space, but I had only really started trying to post regularly a month before Jess sent out a request for people to become members of Safe Space. Despite book blogging and studying Journalism at uni, I was full of self-doubt about writing about things that are important to me. “Would anyone care? There are so many people saying these things better than you, why bother? Why would anyone read what you write?” But with Safe Space, I have a set day every two weeks, which got me writing more regularly, and as there are a group of us, the pressure was off me to provide all the interesting content, so it felt like a good idea. But what I wasn’t expecting was finding such good friends in the Safe Space team members; friends who read each other’s posts, friends who give feedback, and friends who are constantly encouraging and complimentary about each other’s posts. And that’s on top of our wonderful readers who genuinely enjoy our posts and say such lovely things. Being a team member of Safe Space has made me so much more confident in my writing, in what I have to say - so much so that not only do I now write about whatever topic I feel I have something to say about here and on my own blog, but I’m now a regular contributor to other online platforms after becoming confident enough to pitch my writing to them.

I’m also more comfortable in sharing my opinion on, how I feel about, or my experience of a topic and confident in my voice. It doesn’t matter if people disagree or if other people have said something similar before, what I have to say is important, and my experiences and thoughts are unique to me. And, sometimes, what I write helps others, makes them think, or inspires them. That’s such a wonderful thing to be able to do for other people, and not something I would have ever imagined I’d be in a position to do. I have come on leaps and bounds since joining Safe Space, and I will be forever grateful to Jess for allowing me to be a part of something so wonderful. Safe Space is such fantastic place that makes others feel less alone - myself included.

And, finally, being a member of Safe Space and reading my fellow team members posts on mental illness partly led to me realising I have one myself and getting the help I need. And I’ve had such wonderful support from my fellow team members. Safe Space has literally changed my life.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Feel The Fear

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

It’s one of those quotes that you hear time and time again (especially as an anxious person) and after a while it just becomes words that you hear rather than a sentence with real meaning. 

The words began to drift over my head, so used was I to feeling the fear and not doing it anyway because: fear.

I did something a bit crazy on Friday. 

I went for a job interview. 

The first job interview I’ve had in over a year. 

The first job interview I’ve had since I had a minor blip in my mental health (read: yearlong battle with agoraphobia.)

I did it.

I actually did something that scared me shitless.

And I survived.

I’d love the job, it’s perfect for me in an environment that I feel safe and calm in. (A university bookshop. Books, bookish people, BLISS.)  But if I don’t get the job then I won’t be sad for long because in having the interview I’ve reminded myself that I am strong, brave, independent, knowledgeable, polite and friendly; in fact for the first time in a long time I finally felt genuine, smile inducing, tummy dancing pride in myself. And that’s rare. But it’s beautiful.

There’s nothing like feeling proud of yourself and not needing to seek validation for that feeling from anyone but yourself. I walked out of the interview with the hugest grin on my face, an extra bounce in my step and a happy heart. Not only had I crushed my anxiety, I’d also managed to have a good interview. (well, good in my opinion anyway!) And I finally had ammunition to fire at the negative voices in my head; they couldn’t get a word in!

I felt the fear and I did it anyway.

Don’t get me wrong…I was shaking with fear as I was eating my breakfast on Friday morning. I kept thinking I needed a wee on the journey there. I had a dry mouth as I approached reception to inform them I had arrived. But then as soon as I was greeted by a bookseller to show me around, something happened inside of me and I just felt this almost serene calm wash over me. I could do this. I had the knowledge, the passion, the experience for the job. I could only do my very best; that’s all anyone can ever do. And even though I was still a little anxious (a normal, understandable level of nerves before an interview) I wasn’t overwhelmed by the feelings that often plague me. For once I felt in control of my anxiety.

And I think the main reason why so many anxious people can't feel the fear and do it anyway is because we have such low levels of self-confidence and self-esteem. We underestimate our ability to cope, we’re told by people around us that we need to stop letting the anxiety control our lives and we feel like we’re drowning in a sea of failure. And it’s hard, so hard, to get out of that pattern of thinking. To take a step outside of the comfort zone and think, ‘I’m going to try this.’

It’s never easy to put yourself into a position where there’s a possibility of failure.

But when you do, it can be so rewarding.

I’m by no means ‘cured’ but I am on the road to recovery. I am slowly widening my boundaries again, taking time to remind myself that I can do whatever I put my mind to, telling myself that I need to live my best life and not let stupid adrenaline and annoying thoughts get in the way.

And I’m doing it for me. 
No one else. 
Not my family or my friends. 
For me.

If you suffer with anxiety and you feel like you can’t feel the fear and do it anyway, trust me, you can.

Build slowly up to it, take small steps, reward yourself every time you succeed. Keep moving forward as slowly as you need to. Remind yourself that YOU are in control. Think of the life you want to lead and keep striving for it. Remind yourself you’re brave and strong and amazing. Don’t let fear steal your life from you.


Feel the fear and do it anyway. 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Guest Post: Empty Chairs by Amber Bensted

There's no right way to start this post. My story won't resonate with everyone, my experiences won't fit into other peoples ideas and the things I went through won't be the same as the stories you've heard before. Because that's the thing about grief, there's no cookie cutter process. . .

Imagine your average 18 year old girl. Working in a job she hates because she didn't want to deal with school anymore, living at home with her parents and spending her weekends doing normal 18 year old things (drinking, hanging out with her boyfriend, you know the deal). I was pretty sure I had life sorted. Sure my job was kind of rubbish but it paid enough for me to enjoy my plentiful free time and in short everything seemed to be going great. Then it changed.

No one tells you the extent to which your world will change when you lose someone close to you. So when my Dad, my superhero vanished from my life there was nothing that could prepare me for it all.

When someone dies it doesn't feel real for a while. I remember coming home from the hospital, I wasn't crying or screaming I was just walking. Putting one foot in front of the other with my family behind me, minus one person. To the people walking past me I probably looked like any other girl. Your brain doesn't always remember that you've lost someone. I would slip up, start to call out goodmorning to him before I remembered he wasn't going to reply. I would instinctively turn the radio to his favourite station then be confused as to why it made me cry. Things that were normal before turned bitter and it always took me a moment to figure out why.

You don't cry everyday. I always thought that if I lost someone I wouldn't be able to stop crying. In the films, it's all dramatic tears as you stare longingly out of windows but in reality grieving isn't necessarily tears, for me it was just an emptiness. It was an empty chair, a strangely quiet room and an inbox of unread text messages. It was thinking "I can't wait to tell Dad about this" then realising he wasn't there to tell. It wasn't a flood of tears it was a drout of all emotion.

One of the hardest things for me was hearing people say it'll be ok. Being told that it would make me stronger made me want to scream! I didn't want to get on with life, someone had hit pause in my world and I wasn't ready for it to start again.

The truth is yes the pain does fade and eventually you learn to keep going without the person you lost. One day you stop saying goodnight to an empty chair and as terrible as it sounds you might even go days without thinking about them. But it will still hurt sometimes, there will be days where it hits you like a wave and it's like you lost them yesterday. That's ok. It hits everyone differently; Dad died 2 years ago and there are still days where all I want to do is crawl into a hole and stay there or scream until my lungs run out of air. But there are days where I smile and laugh like any other 20 year old.

If there's one thing I've learned it's that you don't stop missing someone. There's no magic solution or time limit when it comes to grief. But as hard as it was to believe in the beginning it does get better. You'll learn to re-evaluate things, to prioritise your life in a way you couldn't before. You'll begin to accept the things that have changed and in a way create something good. It might not be what you imagined but it's life and that's pretty damn impressive.

If you've ever lost somebody, I hope you're ok. But remember if you're struggling it's never too late to reach out for help. Speak to those around you, if you think you need it go and see a counsellor. You don't need to go through this alone.

Amber x

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