Too… Quiet


Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Do you know the one thing that quiet people love to hear? ‘Gosh, you’re quiet, aren’t you?’

 *Raises eyebrow*

 No, ok I’m joking, of course we don’t.  

I have been ‘the quiet girl’ my entire life. I will chat away with my husband, or my friends, or my family… but any more than three people at once, my words become fewer and the spaces between them wider. I’m the quiet one in the friendship groups, the one that waits until everyone else has finished talking before piping up. I blush if too many people’s eyes are upon me when I’m talking, I sometimes feel like I talk too much and like I want to catch the words as they spill forth out of my mouth and cram them back in to a place of silence and safety.

 It’s not that I’m quiet all of the time, but I find other people much more interesting than myself. I would much rather listen than talk – because when you listen, you learn. You learn all sorts, you learn not only from what people say, but you learn by observing; you learn by the little mannerisms they have just before they talk, by the way their voice rises around certain people as if to elevate their importance. You learn what they are passionate about as you watch their eyes smile and twinkle and you learn when they are masking the truth as they tell you they are fine, but their eyes give them away. You learn by observing who else they talk to, by how they treat others and by what stories you hear a million times, and why. You can learn a lot by being quiet and by letting other people talk.

 It sounds like I’m trying to catch people out – I’m not! My observing of people comes from a place of seeking understanding and acceptance of the fact that we are all different and we all have our strengths, we all have our anxieties and we all have our own battles that we face, every day.

 When I was younger, I longed to be louder. I longed to be someone who could spark up a conversation with anyone, who could lead conversations and who could be interesting all of the time. I made up conversations in my head to have with people the next time I saw them, I rehearsed them and in my bedroom, I was confident and brave… in reality not so much. I watched the confident girls, I watched the adults – I saw how they interacted with each other and how easily it all seemed to flow. One day, one day I would find that confidence from somewhere and I would be just like that…

 Somewhere along the line though, I realised that people who were loud, were not necessarily confident, and to quote Joel Barrish ‘constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating’. Don’t get me wrong, I still admire people who carry conversations and who are the life and soul of any room they walk into – but I’m learning that it is ok to not be that person, and sometimes even the people who we think are ‘that person’, aren’t.

 I think I also realise how much power words have. As someone who was bullied verbally for most of my secondary school years, I learnt of the damage they can cause and has someone who writes I can also appreciate the beauty of them. Words to me aren’t just things to carelessly throw around whilst hoping for the best; they are tools, they are weapons and they are magic. I choose my words carefully and I think about them often – sometimes before I have a conversation (I haven’t neglected that trait) and sometimes after when I replay the conversation within my mind.

Yesterday, in therapy, we were talking about how as a quiet person I can sometimes feel like I talk too much. Its part of this whole negative thought cycle I need to try and break because it is something I do very often. Yesterday I gave my therapist an example, something that only happened a few days ago; my mother and step-father in law were over for dinner, we all get on well, we were all talking. My step father in law and I got into a conversation about my blog, about mental health, about his work and how he deals with people on a day-to-day basis who have mental health issues, sometimes very severely.  When I talk about mental health, I can become quite passionate (I know, you are shocked, right?) and it was really lovely to have this conversation with someone after a few days of really doubting myself…

However, as soon as they went home, the negative self- talk started. I had talked too much, I had said too much, I had become too big, too confident and what must he think of me? Had I sounded self-absorbed? Is this whole writing thing self-absorbed? Had I neglected my husband, or my mother in law by talking about myself? What if they had wanted to talk about something and I had steamrollered all over it with my bloody voice?! Oh god, my voice – who likes the sound of their own voice, right? Especially if its talking about something really boring, or something that I’ve got completely wrong… I should probably just go and find a hole to burrow into and not come out for a few days, right?

“That’s really horrible…”

My therapist looked at me after I had spurted all of these thoughts out… I think instead of burrowing into a hole I had said ‘get back into my box’, but, semantics…

He asked me if my very lovely, very encouraging, very gentle step father in law had showed any signs of being bored by the conversation; if he had yawned, if he had sighed, if he had tried to change topic, if he had not replied to me, if he had got up and left the room…? No, he had done none of those things. He asked me who had told me that I talk to much… well, no-one, I’m a quiet person, I don’t talk much so that has never been an issue. He asked me what is wrong with being passionate about something and having a conversation – a two-sided, adult conversation – about it? Nothing…

I need to change these thoughts. I need to stop with the self-doubt, with the negative voice that constantly natters away within my own mind. I encourage others to talk, to explore their passions, to get the words out and I assure them I will always, always listen – because I will, I am pretty good at that bit. But I need to listen to that advice myself, and I need to start believing in it too.

He said to me very gently before our session ended yesterday…

“Don’t try and shrink yourself anymore Naomi…”

But that is smallness, and safety, and hiding away…

…and that is one for another day.


Click here to check out my previous post in this series: Too… Sensitive

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Codependent

Image credit: Dominik Vanyi @ Unsplash

Codependency was a word that I never fully grasped; it was something I never fully understood and something that – even now – I struggle to spell!

And yet, I was it, I was it to the letter. If anyone wanted an example of what a co-dependant person looked like, they could just bring me forward, with my phone firmly planted within my hand and my attention off elsewhere, and show me off as a good and fine specimen of someone who has fallen into that trap…

I hadn’t become this way intentionally of course, I hadn’t even become this way consciously, but I had become it all the same. It had happened over years, namely with one person, but there are little glimpses and tell-tale signs with others too. However, with this one person it was powerful, it was overwhelming and it was becoming very, very damaging.

This was a person who I had never met and who I had no real intention of meeting. He was a man who I had met online years ago, our conversations had started out regarding a shared interest in mental health and we had formed a friendship of sorts. Sometimes it is easier to talk about the hard stuff with someone if you don’t have to look them in the eye… and so, we gradually opened up to each other. He told me things that he had (allegedly) not told anyone else and I listened and advised the best that I could. When I suffered dips in my mental health, I turned not only to my husband and closest friends, but also to him. He always replied, always acknowledged my feelings… and then always reciprocated with his own.  

This isn’t a writing about how a friendship turned sour though, far from it. We don’t talk now, after a very difficult conversation we decided to have some time apart and whilst I admire him in many ways and still sometimes feel like I have lost a huge pillar of strength within my life, I also know that he has to address his own problems before we could ever hope to build a healthy relationship.

I also know that I need to address mine.

Because co-dependency doesn’t just spring up from nowhere. I became co-dependent because I had a need for something, something that was lacking and something that even now I struggle to identify. My over whelming desire within this friendship, was to fix; I wanted to make everything better, I could see the damage that was being done by my friends behaviours, but I could also see the things that would help him and I could see such potential – if only he would listen!

But he was listening, wasn’t he? We would have these long conversations; we would talk our way round the same situations day, after day, after day. He would ask me ‘What do I do?’ and I would reply with logic and compassion. I harnessed everything that I had learnt in therapy, everything that I had read about mental health and addiction. I would read articles online to try and improve my knowledge of the specific things he was struggling with. I would talk to my best friend – a qualified mental health nurse – and relay information, I would find song lyrics that resonated with his struggles and send him the music so he didn’t feel so alone. I would speak to him first thing in the morning and last thing at night, I would engage in behaviour that was damaging to my own mental health, in order to prevent him from either a) getting what he needed in that moment from someone who was potentially dangerous for his mental health or b) hurting someone else. But this was friendship, right? This was helping him, surely?

No, and no.

I remember very clearly the moment that it all clicked. It was on a day off, so I had been at home by myself all day and, yes, talking to him via text for a good part of it. I was feeling pretty tired – this was at the end of last year, so very much still combating my own medication withdrawal and Fibromyalgia symptoms. I ran a bath, loaded up Insight Timer and I saw a talk on the homepage by Michelle Chalfant about codependency…

I led in the bath and listened to her describe the behaviour I had been exhibiting, for years. Not just ‘oh, that kind of applies’ but every, single, item on that list I could identify and relate back to something I had done. I realised that I was not ok, if he was not ok – and he, was never ok.

It was like my empathy with this man had gone into overdrive, I wanted so desperately to make everything better for him that I had completely neglected myself in the process. He hadn’t specifically asked me to, he hadn’t directly put this stipulation on our friendship that I must behave in this way or he would leave – but I kind of felt that way all the same. I am learning the reasons now why I did that, I am working through my own feelings and my own motives for that behaviour – but it’s not easy.

We carried on talking for a while after that, but something had shifted. Truthfully, I was scared, I was scared to let him go because if I didn’t have him to ‘help’, then what would my purpose be? I was also very scared that actually, he wouldn’t care. That he would just say ‘ok then’ and go and I would end up with the weight of rejection upon my shoulders. I was also scared that all of this, all of these conversations, all of this kindness, this empathy, this care that I had willingly and freely given over months and years would be for nothing.

I was scared that it made me selfish.

Co-dependency is complex. My motives for my behaviour came from a number of different places – from the need to be heard, to my need for validation and also my natural desire to help and to empathise. The times that he would say ‘yes, this makes sense’ were the glimmers of light and the behaviour he continued to exhibit that went against that very same piece of advice, extinguished those sparks. But he would learn from that for next time, right? So I kept on, persevered and tried to be a good friend. In the end it just exacerbated those ingrained feelings and beliefs of being unheard, but to me, that was familiar and so it was ‘safe’. It was known behaviour so it was comforting even though it stung like ripping off a sticking plaster each and every time. I found that I couldn’t trust him, and yet I confided in him still. I found that I got angry with him, but it felt more like being angry at a child. I found that I was sinking into his problems whilst my own screamed at me from the surface…

Letting him go would also mean I didn’t have a distraction from my own problems anymore.

Eventually, it was my decision to end contact with him. It wasn’t pre-meditated, it wasn’t a thought out ‘I am going to have this conversation and it will be resolved by X, Y and Z’. It was a row – it was an insensitive comment made by him about my husband on a day when I was feeling depressed and in pain and having to brave it out at work. It was the argument that ensued and this voice that bubbled up inside me and screamed ‘this is not ok!’.  I had been ignoring this voice, my own voice that said repeatedly, for months, ‘I am done…’ but I should have listened to her; my inner child may be small and gentle but I was doing her no favours by not hearing her – eventually she screamed, a scream of pain, a scream of frustration and a scream so powerful that my decision was made in that instant. I was done.

Afterwards, it felt worse than any romantic break up that I had ever endured. I spoke to friends about it; I spoke to my husband and my therapist about it. I meditated on it, I questioned what I had done, and I checked his social media profiles to see if he was ok… but I didn’t go back.

One thing I noticed in those first couple of weeks was how much time I had! I wasn’t tied to my phone anymore. I also noticed that my confidence improved – I wasn’t hiding behind someone else’s problems. Yeah, sure, this meant all of my problems came to the surface but I could own them now. I tried to turn some of that care and affection back onto myself – and some days I manage it, some days I don’t, but at least I am trying. It’s something that will take months, if not years because it isn’t straightforward and this type of behaviour has roots that are buried deep.

I still miss him. I still wonder how he is, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I am learning the importance of boundaries and the importance of true friendship. I am learning to listen to the voice of my inner child because she knew what was up before I had even registered it. I am learning to forgive – both him and myself and I am learning that we cannot, ever fix someone else.

We can love them, we can support them, we can validate their feelings and we can send them all the articles and song lyrics in the world.

But we cannot fix them, for that is a path they must walk alone.

Too… Sensitive.

Image by Bibarys Ibatolla @ Unsplash

Something that I feel has come up a lot over the last week or so, is this notion of being ‘too’ something. It was something that was mentioned in my writing on Tuesday and, unsurprisingly, something we discussed in therapy on Wednesday. Last weekend I found myself mentally compiling a list of everything I felt I was too

  • Too sensitive
  • Too emotional
  • Too caring
  • Too tired
  • Too disorganised
  • Too big
  • Too quiet
  • Too open minded

I also felt that I do things too much, things like…

  • Thinking
  • Procrastinating
  • Spending time mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or Instagram…

When you look at them in a list, when your logical brain kicks in, it all seems rather ridiculous. How can any of us be too anything? We are who we are – I am a sensitive, caring, disorganised and open-minded person who spends a lot of time lost in my own thoughts. Is that bad? Not…really…

And yet, we tell ourselves these things, repeatedly. Something may have been said, at some point in our lives, a throwaway comment or something that was said a number of times on a number of different days. Sometimes by one person, sometimes by a few and it has stuck. I am going to try to make this into a bit of a series, questioning these beliefs that I have about myself and trying to look at them in a more positive light.

So, as it’s at the very start of the list, let’s kick off with… ‘Too sensitive’

Whenever I feel hurt, or pain. Anytime I cry at a movie or an advert or a book (yep). Anytime I feel any emotion bubbling up inside me and it comes out as tears instead of anger, or joy, anxiety, love or confusion. Anytime I spend too much time trying to help someone else, anytime I take something in a different way than it was intended or I feel overwhelmed… I hear ‘it’s because you are too sensitive’. It’s a criticism, a flaw, something to be fixed and solved and sorted and got rid of.

Unless…

Unless we take away the ‘too’.

Then I am just sensitive.

I’m not going to sit here and say that there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with being sensitive. I have spent the majority of my life believing in it as something to work on and something to eradicate, so it would be a little hypocritical of me to say that being sensitive is great and wonderful and something to actually aspire to! But, I am learning that it isn’t all bad.

For those of us that are sensitive, everything is more intense. This can be sadness and pain, but it can also be joy. It can be that certain noises are unbearable (it’s no surprise to discover that people who identify as ‘highly sensitive people’ also usually identify as suffering from misophonia – an aversion to certain noise) but it can also be that certain sensations – touch, sight, smell and even other, different sounds can bring intense pleasure (ASMR anyone?).

However, I do understand why I was led to believe that being ‘too’ sensitive was not the greatest trait to bear. Because being sensitive is tiring and its hard, its sometimes feeling like you have no skin and therefore everything gets in. I have never told anyone that they are too sensitive – but I can understand where it comes from and that need to protect – to try and stamp out the one thing that may cause someone you love and care about immense emotional pain further down the line. Toughen up, sticks and stones, be brave, don’t let it get to you… these are all wonderful words of advice, but unfortunately they are as effective as throwing a pebble into the ocean. A sensitive person is a sensitive person, just like a person with blue eyes is a blue eyed person – it’s not something that you can change, but what you can do, is bolster.

You can validate emotions; you can recognise and empathise – even if you don’t share the intensity. You can talk about emotions with people – I shall let you into a little secret, deep conversations are like crack to a sensitive person! We want to get to know you, not the you that posts all the highlights on social media, but the real you. We want to tell you about the things we are passionate about and hear your stories and about your interests. If you have a sensitive child, then encourage them to talk, to write, to get all of these emotions out in a safe manner that they feel comfortable with and that will help them, so much, further down the line. Let them know that it’s ok to cry (and it’s really normal to not even understand why sometimes), help them to understand the more extreme emotions – love, fear, hate and anger, because they will feel them more than you know and sometimes they will even feel them all at once. Show them how to express themselves, teach them about boundaries and how to say no without the guilt that will come along and knock them off of their feet. Let them know that it is ok to feel everything so very deeply, that it is a gift, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

The thing about sensitive people is that they are fully aware of the fact that they have this trait, I know for example that sometimes my reactions to things can be a little off – I don’t want to say that I am ‘overreacting’, because that goes against my beliefs regarding the importance of validation and how we need to feel our emotions – any emotion that anyone feels is real and is important –  but I can understand that perhaps my husband didn’t mean what he said in the way that I took it, he could have just been making an idle comment. We know that not everyone thinks the way we do; we have spent our entire lives coming to that realisation.

But sensitive people are not weak; they are not fragile or like little precious snowflakes. Life would be very, very hard indeed if as a sensitive person I expected everyone around me to tread on eggshells and never say anything at all that may upset me – that wouldn’t be right, it wouldn’t be fair and it wouldn’t be practical. I know other people who identify as sensitive, or ‘HSP’s’ and they are some of the bravest, most intuitive and compassionate people I know – they aren’t afraid of the tough stuff, at all. In fact, if anything they kind of go towards it at full pelt because they can fully understand the implications of things that are left unsaid or un-acted upon. They are empaths, dreamers and creators. People with wonderful imaginations and an innate understanding of things that aren’t always black and white and there in front of you.

The word needs logic; we need the practical and the people that see things in black and white. These people have their own gifts and their own strengths – they can be natural leaders and extroverts, they could be the life and the soul of the party or the ones that get in and get the job done without letting emotion or feeling get in the way. They help ground people who fall into the personality types at the other end of the spectrum.

My husband and I are completely different in many ways; we both took the Myers-Briggs personality test yesterday; I am an INFP-T – a dreamy idealist, a mediator and he, well, he is an ISTJ-A, a logistician. We are both Introverts, but that is our only similarity. We have been together for sixteen years this July – so, we are living and breathing proof that opposites do attract and can actually get along together very well indeed. There is no ‘wrong’ way to be, if he was as sensitive as I am then we wouldn’t have made it through the first six months and if I was as practical and grounded as he is, then we would live in a minimalist cube and eat food for sustenance, not for enjoyment. It is not that he isn’t sensitive to things, it is not that he is cold or withdrawn and it is not that I am a simmering ball of emotion at all times or am either laughing or weeping or nothing in-between – because neither of us are those things; we just have different things that drive us, that stir reactions within us and that make us individuals.

Because it would be rather dull if we were all the same, wouldn’t it?

Further reading: The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron

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The Perils of Writing What You Know (& The Perks)

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This already feels like a bit of a weird post, so bear with…

I have been blogging now for just over a month but I have been writing for years, I’m 34 and I think I wrote my first (questionable) piece of fiction before I entered my teens. I have always enjoyed writing, putting words down onto paper; creating new worlds and characters to inhabit them. Even when I am not writing, I am imagining; whether through the words of someone else, or just by myself. Reading and writing has always brought me great comfort, even in my darkest moments.

A few years ago, I joined a site where I could be completely anonymous. The nature of the site wasn’t based upon writing, but I posted my words there nonetheless and people liked them! This was the first real validation I had received outside of close family and friends. I wrote fiction and I also wrote about my own mental health – and I received comments and loves and private messages thanking me for being brave (when I felt anything but). People commented on how I had helped them, or how I inspired them. I received support on my bad days and on my good, I was able to encourage and support others. There was a nice little community feeling and for a while it was fantastic. The Blurt Foundation posted a series of Instagram ‘prompts’ – initially for pictures to be posted on the platform, but I shared the list on this site and people joined in with their writings, sharing stories of their own struggles with mental health with complete openness and honesty whilst supporting those that had also decided to join in. New friendships were formed, it was a really positive experience and it got people talking about mental health which is so very important.

However, for reasons unrelated to writing, my relationship with the site was never a completely comfortable one. On one hand, the anonymity allowed me to be completely open, but in being completely open you can become quite fragile. There were times, when being on the site consumed most of my time, there were relationships formed there that weren’t entirely healthy and there were times when for my own mental health I needed to step away. This was a pattern I got into throughout the years, but last year I stepped away and I never went back.

Around the same time, I also had a really difficult discussion with a family member regarding the therapy I was due to start in the winter – something that I had written got brought up in this conversation and I had the overwhelming sense that they believed that writing about my experiences and then sharing it was wrong. For months after that, I didn’t write – I couldn’t write.

I had not only lost my place to share it and feel connected with people, but I had also lost my confidence. I joined Fiverr briefly and wrote short stories for people, but there was no real pleasure in it, I wasn’t writing anything that felt true to me. It felt empty and hollow and when I got commission emails through I felt deflated, where once, I would have felt excited.

I did start the therapy though. On my second session I took my therapist a folder full of things I had written over the previous ten years – not all of it, but a carefully curated selection. I think anyone that has been to see various doctors and therapists can understand the frustration of going through the same (sometimes very difficult) stories. In my third session he told me how impressed he had been with some of my writing, he also asked me who I was writing to? I didn’t have an answer for that.

The sessions continued over the course of the next few weeks and in one of them I told him that I hadn’t written anything for months. He took this in (as therapists do) and then about twenty minutes later he asked me what my dream was, what my ideal life looked like.

“Well, I wouldn’t have to go to work…” The words escaped my lips before I had even really thought about them. Work is a weird thing for me; it is a challenge every single day. Not because of the work, but because of the toll it takes on my mental health. It is a catch 22 – I have written about it briefly here – but I know that ultimately work is healthy.

“If you were a writer, you wouldn’t have to do the job you do”

I laughed at the prospect, a writer! I hadn’t written anything of note in the last four months. “I’m not a writer…” I said quietly. “Writers write.”

You write! I was blown away by some of the things you wrote, there is real talent there…”

“Was.” I corrected him. “There was. I don’t know what to write any more.”

“Then write anything. It doesn’t have to be mind blowing, it doesn’t have to be heartfelt, it doesn’t even have to be shared. It can just be words, on a page.”

I went away and mulled this over for a few days, Friends gave me encouraging advice but still, blank screens and crisp white pages gave me the shudders. I had heard of a journaling challenge created by Michelle Chalfant who I had been following on social media after discovering ‘The Adult Chair’. It was a month’s worth of prompts designed to get you thinking about your emotions, your triggers and your reactions. I had downloaded them and looked at them briefly – but the first one, was simply ‘You’. That was pretty daunting…

I considered setting up a completely anonymous WordPress blog if I was going to do this journaling challenge. I didn’t really know anything about WordPress but I figured it couldn’t be that hard; it also gave me a good excuse to procrastinate, I was absorbed in fonts and colours and themes… writing? Ha!

But one day, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. So I started on the first prompt… and after that first initial paragraph, it flowed. It flowed with honesty, it flowed with heartbreak and beauty and all of those things that makes writing so satisfying. But it was honest; very, very honest. I couldn’t put it online, not where people would actually read it.

(I have covered some of those very honest subjects since, but all in one go, it was a little overwhelming.)

I also realised very quickly that I didn’t want it to be ‘a secret’. So, I went through some older writings and posted them on my blog. I made an Instagram page, I made a Twitter account. I linked my Instagram to Facebook and invited friends who I knew would get it.

I had a blog…

Shit, I had a blog. I would have to write stuff! On one hand, this was super exciting, I finally had a place to share my words again and the people that had read what I had posted so far were very encouraging. My friend had also decided around the same time to set hers up too, and another friend that had not long finished uni was making noises that he wanted more of a presence online to promote the nutrition work he was now qualified in; we went and had breakfast and joked that we were becoming ‘influencers’ as we snapped pictures of our breakfasts and talked filters and hashtags, before deciding that we wanted to create a post together about the links between mental health and nutrition. This all felt really good, really positive. I had written some new stuff, I was really enjoying the process of writing and sharing it again.

I think the act of sharing it, for me, is very important. I don’t fully know why, but it feels like it gives the writing a sense of purpose – and especially with it being largely about mental health, that purpose is all about demystifying a topic that is not talked about enough. To have a mental health condition, any mental health condition, can be terrifyingly isolating. Over the last few weeks, I have begun to realise that the answer to my therapist’s question, was me. I was writing it to me, but not the me now; the teenage me who faced bullies every day and didn’t know how to fight back, the me who felt I had let everyone down by not being ‘strong enough’ or that ‘being too sensitive’ was a huge character flaw. I was writing for the younger me, the child me, the teenage me and I was also writing for the adult me who ten years ago forced herself into work every day whilst surviving on nothing but coffee, extra strong mints and insomnia.  I was writing for the girl who was so terrified to put food in her mouth that impassable, yet invisible, lumps formed within her throat. I was writing to a woman who always felt cold, always felt scared, and always felt overwhelmed. I was writing to the person who didn’t know how to get all of these words out, to the person who had all the words but they formed an incomprehensible, jumbled mess within her mind. I was writing to the girl that just needed comfort and that needed to feel less alone – because I knew that even though it felt so incredibly lonely, there were thousands upon thousands of people who felt the way I did.

I read some of my older posts with a view to sharing them, and I wept. There was so much pain, and also so many times where it sounded like I had it all figured out – without having the foresight to know that another blip, another illness, a difficult workplace or new anxiety was around the corner. I read some words and felt embarrassment and I read others and felt awe that even in the midst of a deep, dark depression, I had written something that had encapsulated it all so precisely. I thought of sharing some on my blog and I thought of who would read it… the words were too honest.

My mood was slipping, there were days when it all felt too much; too overwhelming…

I didn’t know why, do we ever know why with depression? It could have been a number of ‘logical’ things; I am still, seven months later, adjusting to life without medication and trying to treat mental illness and fibromyalgia holistically (I do not have anything against conventional medication and I will be writing about this in due course), I have been more sociable lately and that, whilst lovely, always makes me very tired which makes me more prone to low mood. I am still in therapy, which can be very difficult at times. My dog is sick with an ongoing and seemingly undiagnosable illness… things mount up, but of course it really could just be that I was going through a blip and it would pass.

Or, it could be that suddenly I was being open about my mental health again, and honest – not only with my words, but also with my feelings. I wasn’t just bumbling through, carrying on regardless, I was thinking about them because I was writing about them. I also was beginning to follow other mental health bloggers on Twitter and Instagram, and whilst those communities are wonderful and supportive, it is all there.

It is, like many things that surround mental health, very contradictory. We need to talk about it, we need to get our voices and our stories and our support for each other out there – we need to be able to say when we are struggling and we encourage others to do the same, but in doing that it can all feel very… overwhelming. It can feel overwhelming for those of us that share because suddenly all of these thoughts that don’t feel like our own at times, but that definitely come from us are out there and it’s not just strangers on the internet that read it – it’s our friends, our parents and sometimes even our employers. I have spent my entire life feeling like I am too… sensitive/open/honest/experimental/generous/open minded/empathic and like I should always reel my behaviour in – and therefore sharing how I feel can at times be very, very difficult; as soon as it’s out there, I want to snatch it back in. I am an introvert by nature and pretty quiet and softly spoken; I am not one to get up on my soapbox or get in to big debates – but I do believe that conversations about mental health are so very important and as someone who has been there, done that, got the t-shirt and who keeps taking it back for an exchange, I need that to all be for something! If that ‘something’ is helping just one person, then I have done what I set out to do.

So… being a mental health blogger with a mental health condition (or three), is hard. It’s hard because amongst all of it you are on your own journey and you have your own demons to slay. It’s hard because you know only too well the pain that others are going through and sometimes, that pain can trigger your own. It’s hard because it means being open about an illness that feeds off of isolation and it’s hard because that openness isn’t limited towards strangers.

But it’s worth it.

It’s worth it because it starts conversations and helps people to feel less alone and less scared. It’s worth it because it can help me to believe that all of this pain was for something, and it’s worth it because it means I get to write about something that I feel passionate about once again. I have learnt a lot in a month; I have learnt that in general, my confidence soars when I am doing something I love. That not only do I write passionately about mental health, I can also talk passionately about it to people, in person. I have learnt that in sharing my stories it encourages people to share their own and to have difficult conversations with loved ones… but, I have also learnt that there is a flip side. The flip side happens when I spend too much time on social media, or too much time analysing what I have written. It happens when I follow people back without really looking at their profile and then wake up to a highly triggering picture, it happens when I forget to take care of myself amongst it all.

Put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others

I have learnt that there are days when I am going to have to remember that one.


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The Persistent Heart


Photo by Garon Piceli from Pexels

They warned her

Time and time again

‘Your heart is too big

… it’s not if it will break, but when’

And so quietly she whispered

She begged and she pleaded

‘Please heart, please shrink down

… they tell me it’s not needed’

But her heart continued to grow

Bigger than she could contain

‘Your purpose lies within me

… and love should not be tamed’

And so, the heart it won

And the girl continued to live

Her heart, it finally convinced her

That the greatest gift, is to give.


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The Four Month Wedding

Whilst I am all for honesty and openness around mental health and recovery, I feel that yesterday’s post was a rather heavy one. Today, it is Friday, it is also my best friend’s birthday – so pop on over to her page and give her a little read if you have a moment ❤

So, a bit of a lighter post for today. I have noticed a few mentions on Twitter this week regarding weddings, and anxiety. It’s billed as the most magical day of your life and, boy, does that ramp the pressure up! The thought of planning a wedding for someone with anxiety is pretty stressful to say the least – you have to make phonecalls, you have to arrange things, you have to make decisions and it all leads to one day – a day when you will be stood up in front of people and having to speak! They will all be looking at you!

I got married in October 2017 to a man I had been with for 14 years and engaged to for 9 of those! We had gone through phases in those nine years of discussing the whole wedding thing; we had been to view venues, we had been to a couple of wedding fayres, we had made lists of guests and ideas – there were some interesting ideas mixed in – namely having me walk down the aisle to the Terminator theme tune and also a ‘cheese rave’. We had been to other peoples weddings and told ourselves to just get on with it and have our own, all the friends we knew that were in couples were either having babies or getting married! Our relationship was going from strength to strength, but the whole wedding thing kind of loomed over us a little.

We visited some beautiful places in the UK, whilst also debating whether to just elope – Gretna Green, Lapland, Poland… we talked about just doing it and not telling anyone until after the fact, but deep down we both knew that if we were going to do it we wanted to do it surrounded by people we loved.

I studied with the Open University and in June 2017 I had my end of year exam. For months, I studied, wrote, revised… then the exam day came and went and suddenly, I had all of this spare time. I decided that now was the time to sort this whole wedding thing out once and for all! I had heard snippets of conversations that the registry office in our local town had moved and it was really beautiful, so I started looking into that. I had my husband write a list of who he wanted at our wedding, the bare minimum, and I did the same. We were going to do this…

I had always wanted an autumnal wedding. The colours that time of year are beautiful and both my husband and I are huge nature lovers. I think that there is also a sense of building excitement at that time of year – you have Halloween, bonfire night and then Christmas isn’t far away; to me it has always felt rather magical, what better time to get married?

October was four months away.  16 weeks.

It was that or wait yet another sixteen months – and, hey, I’m a Sagittarius, I wanted to do this and I wanted to do it now. I rationalised it with the fact that with a timescale like that, we wouldn’t have time to overthink and panic, we would just have to get on with it and get it done – how romantic, eh?

When I called the registry office to book, I was so nervous. How does one book the biggest day of their lives? Is it just as simple as calling someone and asking what availability they have for weddings in October?? Um… yes, it really is. The woman I spoke to was lovely and within moments, it was done, at 1pm on Saturday October the 14th, I would marry the man I loved.

I have had anxiety for years but in 2017 I was doing pretty well, things were under control and manageable – my husband, who has never been formally diagnosed with anxiety but exhibits all of the symptoms at times – was the one needing the reassurance. We came to a deal: I would plan the wedding, and he would sort the honeymoon (and the groom stuff). I do like to reassure myself that it wasn’t the prospect of marrying me that made him anxious – but I could understand where it all came from. He would be the centre of attention for a whole day (as an introvert, this is very daunting), he would have to make a speech, he would have to make decisions, his parents – who had divorced 16 years earlier – would have to be in the same room together, for the first time. It was undoubtedly overwhelming and there were times when we almost called the whole thing off, but I am so pleased that we didn’t – and truthfully, so is he.

For four months, my best friend (my other one) and I planned my wedding. She was absolutely amazing ❤ We went and checked out the venue, we went to different hotels and pubs to sort out the meal afterwards, I was a very lucky girl and had 3 hen do’s! (One with work colleagues, one with family, and one with my closest friends where we went to Pride in Southampton) My husband spent his stag do walking in a very wet Devon with two of our closest friends and his brother – I think this was the highlight of the four months for him 🙂

Everything just seemed to come together – I fell in love with the first dress I tried on and although I did try on others, the first one was the one I felt the most drawn to. My husband found his suit, the right size and colours on ebay for £15, worn once. The animal sanctuary where we had rehomed our dog from the year before were so helpful in agreeing to take him for the weekend (Akita’s mixed with a houseful of excited people – no). My sister’s boyfriend, a photographer, offered us wedding photos as our gift. Even English Heritage, custodians of the beautiful castle ruins we wanted our photographs to be taken in were so generous and helpful.

My brother arranged to borrow his boss’s car and be my chauffeur, a family friend offered to do my flowers. My parents visited Somerset countless times and we planned and talked and came up with magical ideas. The country inn we had chosen for our wedding breakfast could not have been more perfect, local artists used the bar area as a showcase for their work and the food was to die for. The only thing, the most unexpected thing, that I struggled with – was music.

Now, I love music. Lyrics are a big thing for me from all sorts of artists and all sorts of music genres. I’ve written about Nina Perrson before, how her lyrics resonate so strongly. The same goes for Shirley Manson, Phoebe Bridgers, Damien Rice, Laura Marling, even Lana del Rey, amongst many, many others…

I had many ideas of what I wanted to walk down the aisle to before we made any real plans. One of the choices was The Minstrel Boy, an instrumental by The Corrs. It’s so beautiful, however, my husband thinks it sounds ‘like music you would hear in a morgue’ – so, that one was out.

Next was a beautiful instrumental by Nordlys. We agreed on this one! It’s a beautiful piece of music… I played it to my mum and she remarked that it reminded her of the theme to a Swedish crime thriller where everyone got their heads chopped off – so, that one was out.

Then I found a gorgeous piece of music, it was called ‘Fairytale’, it was sweepingly, soaringly and breathtakingly perfect… it was also from the movie Shrek – it was out.

I found the same with the Jurassic Park theme (which is actually really pretty and a favourite film for both of us), but for weeks friends tagged me in various dinosaur memes on Facebook. Again, that one was out…

I was starting to struggle a little. It needed to be short, but not too short, it needed to have a certain type of arrangement near the start so that my bridesmaids could walk in before me, and it needed to be something that we both liked.

There is a TV show that we both adore. It has apparently finished for good now – although I hold out hope they will bring it back – it’s called The Detectorists, and yep it’s about metal detecting! But it is so beautiful, so simple. It’s written by and stars Mackenzie Crook from The Office (uk) and it’s just about two guys, chatting shit and metal detecting whilst living pretty normal, mundane lives. Each season has been set during summertime in the English countryside and each season you wonder if they ever will find that treasure, which is usually right under their noses. But then as each episode passes you realise that it’s not about getting rich and finding stacks of buried gold or historical arrowheads, it’s about having a good time with your best mate.

The theme tune is beautiful. It’s a song written especially for the series by singer/songwriter Johnny Flynn, and, it has those all-important lyrics that I am always so fond of.

One night, fraught with stress over this aisle walking song, listening to pieces of music that had no real meaning to us, I put on this song for a bit of a break… my husband was sat in the lounge and he just went…

“Well, why not this?”

And why not this?

Will you search through the lonely earth for me?

Climb through the briar and bramble

I will be your treasure

I felt the touch of the kings and the breath of the wind

I knew the call of all the song birds

They sang all the wrong words

I’m waiting for you, I’m waiting for you

Johnny Flynn – Detectorists

Its nature, its countryside, it fitted with our woodland theme and it fitted with us, we both love it and we both love where it came from and how we came to hear it.

And he was waiting for me, at the end of the aisle. His back straight, his heart pounding. In all honesty, I didn’t even hear the song, because he was right there in his beautiful suit and he had the look in his eyes that he gets when I do something great, and he was all I could see – everything, all the years of stressing over how we were going to do this, all the visits to places where neither of us felt comfortable, all the discussions and anxieties and planning over the last few months – it all came down to that one moment, and in that moment none of it mattered.

That evening, my sister’s boyfriend, the photographer who had been stood in front of us getting some wonderful pictures and who had a different view from anyone else told us how he had a lump in his throat as he watched my thumb stroke the inside of my newly wedded husbands hand, a subconscious and re-assuring gesture as if to say ‘It’s all ok, it’s me and it’s you and it’s all going to be ok…’

Eighteen months later, that song still makes it onto nearly every playlist I make – and whenever I hear it now, I see him standing there; I remember the moment he turned around and watched me walk down the aisle towards him and I know, this is what love is.

The Anger Vortex

adrien-converse-505736-unsplash

I have a lot of thoughts buzzing around my head today after yesterdays therapy session and subsequent conversations with friends.

The therapy session was a really hard one – we talked a lot about anger, and my reactions to experiencing and observing it. It’s an emotion I struggle with, especially towards certain people and when I do feel anger it doesn’t really go anywhere, I kind of numb it down or find myself excusing other people’s behaviour. It’s something that I really need to try and work hard on because those feelings must go somewhere, and my therapist even suggested that it could result in feelings of depression and anxiety, so, yay! I bought myself a copy of Bessel van der Kolk’s ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ on my way home, so hopefully this will help me to see what happens to those emotions and encourage me to express myself more freely.

We also spoke about my issues surrounding smallness and safety – this is one for a much bigger writing and one that I don’t feel emotionally ready to broach just yet. But it was a very difficult conversation because it’s again something that there is no real, clear cut, answer to. These are behaviours and ways of thinking that have been ingrained over the last 34 years, they are impossible to resolve within 16 hours of therapy. They run deeper; I just need to arm myself with the tools within these sessions to be brave enough to face them head on…

There was also talk of the bullying I experienced at school – this is where things become really difficult for me because I don’t remember a lot of it, I remember certain incidents, certain insults, certain days, but I don’t remember anything tangible. My mind has done that thing of blacking out a lot of things in order to protect itself but my body, my reactions, my deeply ingrained thought processes – remember. I remember feeling scared for years on end, of feeling small and worthless and like every day was a struggle. I remember feelings of humiliation, of ‘not being good enough’, of wanting to hide and to shut everything off. I remember very vividly the first time I thought killing myself was the only way out, I was 14.

A month into my therapy sessions with my current therapist, we touched briefly on this period of my life and very gently he told me that what I experienced day, after day, after day was traumatic, he had brought the word ‘trauma’ into the room and no-one; no therapist, no doctor, no teacher and no parent had ever used that word before. But it was like suddenly, he opened up this door… I have written sentences before like ‘I was bullied, but most kids are bullied at some point’, that dismisses pain, and I was doing that to myself – repeatedly. I was bullied, yeah, big deal, shrug it off. But no, that type of dismissal needs to end in order to allow recovery to begin. What my therapist did by bringing that word into our sessions was to validate my pain, to put a reason behind why I struggle with the things I do – trauma is massive, and the impact it has on a person’s life is immeasurable.

As my session was wrapping up yesterday, he asked me for the name of the worst of the bullies, and then he asked me “Are you angry at her?”

And I replied honestly, “No.”

Because I’m not, I explained that as an adult I can understand that when children bully other children it is because they need to feel superior – and this can come from a place of deep inferiority and pain.

He smiled. “But you weren’t an adult when she bullied you; you were a child, experiencing your own pain…”

And I realised he was right, even in my worst moments of pain – in child and adulthood, I have never had the desire to make someone else feel bad. In fact, I swing rather too far the other way if anything. But still, the anger isn’t there, not really, it’s more sadness for the things she took from me – the confidence, the carefree childhood, the good grades that I still have to make explanations and allowances for in every job application I make. I suppose the one thing that does cause me the most distress is knowing she is a mother now. Not because of the person she is – I’m sure she’s a completely different person as an adult. But because that feels like the cruellest theft of all; if I didn’t have to deal with all of this trauma, if I hadn’t been fighting depression and anxiety since I left school, if I didn’t need medication to get me through the day for years on end then maybe I would be a mother now too.

Maybe.

But then maybe I wouldn’t be me, as I am now. Maybe if I hadn’t wanted to leave my home town and those memories so badly, I wouldn’t have met my husband. I wouldn’t have met my closest friends or been a version of a mother to our rag-tag collection of adopted dogs. Maybe I wouldn’t have developed the compassion I have; maybe I wouldn’t have found comfort in writing or found a sanctuary in nature, maybe I would be a completely different person.

Two days ago I replied to a girl on Twitter, someone I don’t know. She had posted that she was in her mid-twenties and she felt like depression had stolen her life. She wasn’t married, she had no kids, she was just trying to survive – and I told her that honestly, it doesn’t matter. Those things will come, and when they do she will have a much better understanding of herself and that will serve her and her future family well in the long run. I meant it; I meant every word because that is what I tell myself.

But yesterday… before therapy, I was angry. Not at a person, but at depression itself. At what it takes from us, at how it affects things you wouldn’t even consider. I was frustrated at my part-time hours, my low income and my levels of exhaustion. I was angry at myself because I was feeling agitated by the sound of my husband eating his lunch, I was annoyed that on my day off I had to spend four and a half hours of that getting the bus and going to therapy – a) because my anxiety prevents me from even driving and b) because as much as I like my therapist I would rather spend my days off doing something else – but mostly, I was so pissed off that the people this illness affects are some of the kindest, gentlest, most creative, sensitive and wonderful people I have ever met. Suddenly, all of it seemed so very, very unfair.

But that anger didn’t go anywhere.

So, things are linked, behaviours are repeated and ingrained, feelings feed off of each other and thoughts are constantly expanding and becoming deeper.  When I got home last night I was tearful, and exhausted, but I think I was also one step further on in my recovery. I am learning all the time, I feel like I am picking up chapters of a book but sometimes they are out of sequence and make no sense, but one day they just might – and one day, the comfort that I offered to that girl on Twitter will ring true for me too. Until then I suppose it is a matter of keeping on with the reading, the talking and learning how to be kind to myself, which is sometimes the hardest thing of all to do.

Until next time my loves Xx

Image credit: Adrien Converse on Unsplash

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