The Curse of Positivity

I should probably make one thing clear before I get into this post, I am not against positivity – not in the slightest. I believe that positivity is wonderful and can aid recovery, can undoubtedly make life more pleasurable and of course can make us more enjoyable people to be around. Despite the depression, I even think of myself as a generally positive person – my thoughts in this post aren’t about positivity per se, they are more about how positivity can sometimes feel forced, and pushed upon us…

Because I think we have all reached that point at times where positivity is really, really hard to muster. A bad day, week, month, year…  an amalgamation of events, a mental or physical illness, instances of inequality or discrimination. But still, we have this message pushed upon us by social media especially that we should be positive – because its ‘healthy’.

But… what if its not always the healthy option? What if our constant drive to put this positive front out to the rest of the world is actually damaging our wellness and our growth? We’ve all scrolled through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter looking at everyone else’s highlight reel, we’ve all come away feeling that little bit sadder, that little bit less accomplished.  

I came across a post during my scrolling on Facebook this morning which was a quote taken from Rachel Hollis’s bestselling book ‘Girl, Wash Your Face’

Now… my problem isn’t with Rachel Hollis, or her book. I haven’t read it so it would be unfair of me to pass any form of judgement on it. My problem is with the quote – a quote, which apparently comes near the end of the book and is taken (perhaps) out of context.

If you are reading this quote in the book, then you are someone who has chosen to read what Rachel has to say. You have been given time to grasp the approach of the book, you are perhaps already a fan of Rachel Hollis – maybe from this book itself, or perhaps you heard of her through her event planning company, lifestyle website, or the media company she runs with her husband. Maybe you’ve read one of her novels, own either of her cookbooks, been to one of her conferences or even attended one of her ‘getaway weekends’. The Rachel Hollis brand is huge and she evidently has a massive following of people that know who she is, what she stands for and also her approach to ‘wellness’.

However, if like me, you had to Google her…. then the quote is out of context. What this quote says, to someone unfamiliar with her tough love approach, is pull yourself together girl, stop dwelling on the past. Be positive, love yourself…

And this is something that I cannot get on board with.

Sure, that message is positive; it screams positivity and motivation. But what it doesn’t address is why these ‘positive’ things are not happening in the first place.

Lets break it down a little and see why reading a quote like this out of context can be so problematic…

‘Girl…’ – I get the impression that her target audience is middle class women, usually mothers. But can we take a moment to recognise that men also suffer with the issues that she is trying to address?

 ‘Get ahold of your life’ – how? Is it easy? It that something that people who don’t have a job because of a mental health condition can do? Is that something that someone who is being discriminated against because of their sexuality, race or gender can do? Is it something that a single working mum (or dad) can do when every penny goes on shelter and putting food in their childrens mouths? Is it something an addict can do? Or someone with a physical health condition? Or someone who is grieving? How about uh…. Someone who is processing trauma? Someone who has major anxiety and cannot go outside? Get ahold of your life – five words that are very easy to type, but that have different meanings, difficulties, connotations and shame attached to them, for so many people.

‘Stop medicating’ – I am giving her the benefit of the doubt here, I’m presuming she means ‘self-medicating’ rather than actual medication. But still, coming from a woman who wrote in her bestselling book that she would use vodka and Xanax to deal with stress when she was going through the fostering process, you’d think she’d perhaps have a little more compassion for people that do resort to coping mechanisms to get through. Two words, but they don’t delve into the complexities of addiction, they don’t offer any forgiveness for how we try and cope with our pain. They don’t encapsulate how hard it is to stop behaviours that have helped us in the past and that can be very easy to fall back to, even when we are ‘recovered’.

‘Stop hiding out, stop being afraid, stop giving away pieces of yourself’ – these are good snippets of advice, but they are delivered in such a simplistic way that they lose all meaning. Its safe to hide, especially if you have experienced trauma or discrimination – hiding becomes a learned and subconscious behaviour to some – including myself. And how could you contemplate just telling someone to ‘stop being afraid’? Fears and phobias are bad enough but if we are talking about being afraid of putting ourselves out there, of being seen, or taking huge steps forward and managing our own recovery – then that becomes something else entirely. As for giving away pieces of ourselves – sometimes that comes down to self-worth, to co-dependency, to being abused and to having to, because that’s how we have learnt to survive.

‘Stop saying you can’t do it. Stop the negative self-talk’ – So this part, is perhaps the only part that I do agree with. We are all so hard on ourselves and we do need to learn to talk to ourselves more gently, to be more forgiving to ourselves and to acknowledge that we aren’t perfect, and – in fact – no-one is. Unfortunately, the compassion that we need to offer onto ourselves in order to begin to do this, is not really offered within this context.

‘Stop abusing your body’ – So, this is a very interesting one. I haven’t read Rachels book, but in preparation for this post I have read about Rachel and I have read snippets in order to gleam some sort of idea about the message she is trying to promote. This is a quote from her book:

“Humans were not made to be out of shape and severely overweight. You can choose to continue to abuse your body because it’s all you know […] but please stop making excuses for the why’s”

Rachel Hollis

It is also worth noting at this point, that Rachel Hollis does have posts on her Instagram about loving your body and your worth isn’t dependant on your appearance – which is wonderful and is a very important message. But unfortunately, she seems to be completely disregarding the fact that millions of people suffer with mental health issues which are directly linked to food. Some people undereat, some people overeat and some people do both – and these are all valid reasons for emotional distress. Anorexia is an abuse upon our bodies yes, but it is not a choice, it is not an excuse, it is a deep rooted and traumatising illness – and the same applies to binge eating and bulimia. Also, if we take it away from food for a moment and move onto exercise then can we at least recognise that the ability, time and often money to do so is a privilege not afforded to all.

‘Stop putting if off for tomorrow or Monday or next year’ – if you are tired, if you are unwell, if you are recovering then sometimes you need to put things off. Sure, don’t put them off forever, don’t put them off to the point of never doing them  – but again, it comes down to kindness. It comes down to recognising that something might just be a bit too much of a hurdle today, but tomorrow it might be easier. It is a difficult one, because sometimes we do need to do that hard stuff in order to move forward – but do it with kindness, do it whilst recognising your own limits and whilst also rewarding yourself for how far you’ve come! And that distance will be different for everyone – on some days getting out of bed and showered may seem like a hundred-mile trek, but recognise the power it took to do it, and forgive yourself if today you just can’t.

‘Stop crying about what happened…’ – No, don’t stop crying about what happened. This is perhaps the worst command in this entire list. Its ok to cry about what happened, its healthy to cry about what happened. Tears are healthy, addressing past issues and traumas and learning how to deal with them so that we can move on, is healthy. Never feel ashamed for crying, never feel ashamed for what happened to you and never feel ashamed for talking about it. We need to open up these places of safety, we need to get better at discovering why we sometimes do the things we do and why we react the way that we do to certain things. Brushing things under the carpet, painting on a mask of wellness and positivity and moving forwards is not going to help us find the root causes and is not going to help us address the issues that we need to move on from. Confide in friends you feel safe with, go to the therapy if you are able, take the medication if it helps makes things more bearable and cry when you need to cry – but please don’t ever feel ashamed or embarrassed to do so because you cannot skip these parts, you cannot ignore the past.

…and take control of what happens next’ The same rhetoric as ‘get ahold of your life’. We do have to take responsibility for ourselves at times, but it is important to recognise that these decisions can come much easier for some than for others. If you are being discriminated against, if you are poor, if you live in a rural community and don’t have good transport links, if you are in an abusive relationship, if you don’t have adequate healthcare or are on a long and never ending waiting list for help – then you can recognise that need to take responsibility as much as you want, but you cannot control what happens next.

The ‘tough love’ approach may work for some. It certainly work’s for Rachel’s devoted audience – but it doesn’t work for all. For some, it will feel judgemental, it will feel unkind and it will reinforce the belief that they have in themselves that they are not trying hard enough and that they are to blame – when so often, this isn’t the case.

Rachel Hollis has very successfully built a brand – and the brand is her. But to my knowledge, she doesn’t hold a medical degree, she does not have a background in mental health and before she founded Chic Events with her husband, her working life was spent at Miramax Studios. Rachel doesn’t know, or understand your individual pain, or your trauma. Her message is that of positivity and motivation and that is wonderful – unfortunately her message becomes skewed when her words are taken out of context and are read by people who haven’t bought into the lifestyle brand that she has created. If you cannot do the things you see in a quote all about positivity, that doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you have failed, and it doesn’t mean that your inability to do so is your fault.

It is ok to not be positive, it is ok to be sad or angry, or to feel pain, or to still be in the process of recovery. You do not need to brush yourself off and get on with it just because it’s the done thing, you are allowed to feel your feelings and to talk and cry and revisit the past in order to find ways of making your future bright. We do not all need to be shining beacons of positivity all the time – and we do not need to know where we are going or how we are going to get there.

Sometimes, all we need to do, is be kind.

And not only to others.



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World Mental Health Day

Last year, on World Mental Health Day, I was in the process of coming off of an anti-depressant that I had been on for eight years. I remember I woke up and scrolled through Facebook – the significance of the day dawning on me. The insightful and hopeful posts about talking, and sharing, and not giving in lighting up my screen. But I wasn’t a part of that, I didn’t have any hope or insight.

I posted something, a small paragraph about kindness and how it important it is – especially when it comes to giving it to ourselves and then I probably went back to sleep, or went and led in a hot bath, or cried… I don’t really remember.

This morning… I realised it was World Mental Health Day, again, as I was scrolling through Twitter in bed this morning. A lot has happened in the last year; I have had a course of Cognitive Analytical Therapy, I went back onto the medication I was trying to come off of, I’ve been able to put a name and a reason to some of my pain. I’ve stood up for myself, I quit a job that was making me miserable, I gained a new baby nephew, I lost my wonderful Great Aunt – and, I started this blog.

As a mental health blogger, there should be something insightful coming from my pages today, right? Yeah… probably. I thought about it all morning, I thought about it when I was exercising, when I was hanging the washing on the line. I thought about it whilst scrolling through Twitter and whilst in the shower. Nothing came to me, nothing but pressure.

But maybe that was because there are no beautiful and insightful words that will help when you are in the midst’s of depression, or feeling the effects of long-lasting and complex trauma. Maybe it’s because – like I found last year – if you are in that place, you can read them, but you can’t feel them.

When you are in that place, hope doesn’t apply because depression will snuff out any glimmer of hope before it can really shine. That’s what depression does. You begin to feel disconnected from it all, like you are not worthy of these words or this kindness, because that’s what depression does. You feel that you cannot go to any of those people who assure you that their door is open or they are willing to listen because you’d feel like a burden, or too sad, or guilty, or shameful… because that’s what depression does.

Depression is ugly, and dark. Its corrosive, sticky and toxic. Its complex, its deep rooted, it latches onto other mental and physical illnesses and makes them 10x worse, and 100x harder to fight. But it is also familiar. It lives within us and so it is at times scarily, and comfortingly familiar. Its twisted, its conniving… its not something we can sit here and write pretty words and breezy platitudes about. It’s a killer.

It can kill anyone, it’s not fussy. On the lunchtime news today I watched Lorraine Denman, the mother of the Team GB snowboarder Ellie Soutter talk about her daughters suicide last year. Ellie was 18, she was beautiful, talented, had a loving family and an amazingly bright future ahead of her – she showed no signs of being depressed, she was out with friends the night before….

Ellie Soutter
Photo credit: https://twitter.com/TeamGB

Depression doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care about hope, it doesn’t care about wealth, beauty, love or gender. It will latch on to anything remotely positive and twist it, swamp it with its darkness and its ugliness. It will take your words away, it will convince you that you are too much, too sad, too boring, too unworthy to get help or speak to those you love – and that love you – about what you are feeling. It will jumble your thoughts so that even if you could speak, you wouldn’t know how to make any of it make sense. It will make you so tired of fighting, so tired of having it within you that you will do anything to stop it.

But it doesn’t need to make sense. If you are able to talk to someone, it doesn’t need to come out in any order, it doesn’t have to come out well-described, or calmly, or like beautiful prose. It just needs to come out.

One thing that is important to remember, which I struggle to remember, is that when you do confide in someone – be it a friend, family member, spouse, boss, doctor… anyone – they are not in the same emotional space as you. They are not feeling what you are feeling. They may have their own mental health issues – but, if you are anything like me, it is always easier to hold someone else’s pain than it is your own. I have depression (amongst other things) but I would never want any of my friends to feel that they could not come to me, because I would much rather sit with them in their pain, than sit next to their hospital bed or their coffin.

So… this World Mental Health Day, lets still all vow to be there for each other, but lets also vow to stop treating Depression, PTSD, BPD, Anxiety, Addiction,Eating Disorders and the rest with platitudes. People don’t just suffer on one day, or one week, of the year. They aren’t just suffering when you see them ‘looking sad’, or when they are crying. People can be in emotional pain, even when they are smiling, even when they are holding down a job, or socialising, or recovering. They can still be suicidal when they are tipped to be an Olympic athlete with a bright future and the whole world ahead of them.

Let’s not forget that.

For Ellie x

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A Summer Without Salt

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels
 It's not natural of course  
For a girl who feels it all
It's not normal at all
When there is no protective wall

The tears, they were a burden
Escaping as often as they did
The tears were as frequent as words
Spilling freely from tired lids

But then, 200mg every night
And throw a cover over the pain
But then you know it's not really gone
And it will always remain

A summer with no tears
No salty cleanse, no relieving sob
A summer of not crying at all
It's hard not to feel robbed

Because how else can I get rid of this pain?
This heavy, noisy, aching, unrelenting sadness
Because it is just hidden in the corner
Waiting to unleash its madness

But what will happen if I stop?
Put the pills away
But what will happen to my mind?
If I carry on this way

The Mystery Blogger Award

I’m thrilled to be nominated for the Mystery Blogger award by Naomi from Inching Forwards.

Naomi is wonderful – and not just because of the awesome name 😉 Her blog is full of thought provoking posts; from discussions about politics and mental health, to Eurovision! But I first discovered her writing when I came across her 30 Day Writing Challenge on Love, and I was blown away by how she can create whole worlds filled with wonderful characters, all within a few short paragraphs. If you aren’t following her already, then you definitely should…

So, what is this award all about?

amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve all the recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging, and they do it with so much love and passion.

– Okoto Enigma, Mystery Blogger Award creator.

Mystery Blogger Award rules

  1. Put the award logo on your blog.
  2. List the rules.
  3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.
  5. Tell your readers three things about yourself.
  6. Nominate between ten and twenty bloggers.
  7. Notify your nominees.
  8. Ask your nominees any five questions of your choice (with one weird or funny question).
  9. Share a link to your best post/s.

3 Facts About Me

  1. I love the ‘bad’ weather – give me torrential rain, howling wind, awe-inspiring thunderstorms and the quiet solace of snow over hot and sunny days every time.
  2. The first gig I ever went to was The Prodigy in Bournemouth in… probably about 2004? What a way to start…
  3. I can never remember the endings of books! I can tell you the story from start to finish…. but ask me to tell you what happens in those final few pages, nope!

Answers to Naomi’s Questions

How are you today?

I am pretty good thank you. I am making a concious effort today to be a little more productive on my blog after having some lovely little confidence boosters of the last week or so – including this nomination 🙂

If you could design your own creature and keep it as a pet, what would it be like? (You cannot pick a real animal.)

Oh wow… well, there would have to be a pretty big canine element. I think Akita – because they are not only gorgeous but also lovely to have as a noble and protective companion. I would have the blackness of a bat though, and perhaps the ability to swim across vast lakes and climb high mountains with me sat upon its back, like a horse (but smaller). It would have the ability to be stealth like when under the canopy of the woods – a good hunter, but gentle enough to curl up around the fire with me in the evening. And all round woodland companion really 🙂

What have you done this week that made you feel good about yourself?

Well… it’s only Monday, so lets not get too carried away! I have been pretty productive though, I’ve done some housework, made a video for my Instagram channel and had a meeting about some freelance work I’m doing. Trying to resit the urge to nap though…

What kind of music are you into at the moment?

All of it! Haha. I have about 3 playlists on the go at the moment and none are defined as one genre. Last week I made a playlist with songs that always make me feel something – from some of the Titanic instrumentals, to Damien Rice and The Eurythmics. I also have a playlist that I’ve been listening to whilst doing some decorating at my friends house with songs that I love to sing along to – think Lulu, ABBA, Marina and The Diamonds, MUNA and First Aid Kit. I’ve also just started my Autumn playlist….

I find it very hard to stick to one type of music. But this year I have really fallen head over heels for MUNA, Phoebe Bridgers and I’m more recently enjoying some stuff from Young Ejecta.

Where do you feel most happy and calm?

Wales, always. In a little isolated cottage or wrapped up against the elements as mother nature wraps her arms around us.

My Mystery Blogger Award Nominees

Basically BaileyBailey is just finding her feet in the blogging community but keep your eyes peeled for some great lifestyle posts coming soon.

Tales of Night Creatures – Not only my best friend, but also a highly skilled writer and artist. April talks about mental health like no-one I have known before – honest, brave and heart-stoppingly beautiful at times ❤

Little Tinkablee – Books, mental health, yoga, cats – oh, and she also comes from Wales, what other incentives do you need to follow this gorgeous gem of a person?!

Diffusing The TensionJen over at Diffusing The Tension not only writes wonderfully about mental health, but she also hosts a whole heap of guest posts and also offers ecourses and informative posts for those of us that can sometimes feel a little out of our depths 🙂

NyxiesNook – One of the very first bloggers I discovered when starting out with all of this, Chloe blogs about mental health with a heavy slant towards eating disorder recovery, Massively inspiring, not only for her organisation and success with her wonderful blog, but also for her recovery ❤

DragonsCodex – Beautiful, beautiful Taryn. A constant source of light as I navigate Twitter. She has just relaunched her blog, so be sure to go and check it out and show her some love.

The Good Limbo – Not only a wonderful mental health community page run by Muir and Zoe, but also a wonderful blog and a group of genuinely really lovely people. The team at The Good Limbo offer so much support to other members of the mental health community on a daily basis and are so lovely to chat to – about absolutely anything 🙂

5 Questions For My Mystery Blog Award Nominees

  1. What does your dream day look like? If you could do absolutely anything, what would you do?
  2. What song will always get you singing at the top of your voice?
  3. Why did you start blogging?
  4. If you could only eat sweet or savoury food for the rest of your life, which one would you pick?
  5. If you could be any fictional character for a whole year, who would you be?

My Best Posts

Sylvia at The Shoreline – A love letter to the women who smile through it all, and an acknowledgement of the kind of loneliness that company cannot fix.

The Mountain – A good friend once described recovery to me in this way, and it is the best metaphor I think I have ever come across.

The Four Month Wedding – With my second wedding anniversary coming up in a few weeks, what better time to re-visit this?

The Frequency of Sadness – Depression will present itself differently for everyone… here is my take on it all.

Rainy Day Rambles

I lay on the edge of the bed, my right arm lazily grazing the carpet. Slowly I closed one eye and my view changed, I could no longer see the ruffled-up duvet in front of my face. I opened it again and everything came back into view. I closed the other, with slightly more effort, and watched as the view shifted a little, just like an old slide projector.

It crossed my mind, briefly, that this is how the world works. Things shift and blur into reality and what we think we see. That without moving, even just barely breathing… our minds can alter our reality. My mind was tired and my body felt heavy. The amount of thoughts inside my cranium were literally weighing me down. If the mind is like the one-eyed trick, then surely, we can alter it?

In that instant I berated myself for thinking of it in such simple terms.

But I do this, simplify the complex. Yesterday I was so sad, unbearably sad at some points and I didn’t know why. My own voice in my own head was pointing out all the things that I should be grateful for without acknowledging the very fact that depression doesn’t need a reason. That’s a fact, that’s not a thought. My mind was ignoring the rational and instead choosing the option that made me feel guilt and shame which of course, made me feel worse. But then I guess that’s the poorly part, the defunct and damaged cells, the sticky black tar.

The friend that chirpily tells you that are so lucky, as she twists the knife in your back.

I haven’t been writing because I haven’t known how to put my feelings into words since therapy ended a little over a month ago. I haven’t wanted to write dismal posts about how I’m feeling, and yet I haven’t had the drive to read scientifically backed information about the things that your mind does when you are processing trauma in order to wrap it up in a neat little bow. I’ve seen things that I’ve thought would make great inspiration for poems, I’ve thought of whole, wonderfully, crafted paragraphs of prose whilst I’ve been starting into space – but when it comes to writing it down, the words haven’t flowed.

I need to write; writing for me is like a sifting my thoughts through thin white mesh – it sorts the jumbled from the rational and helps me to think clearly. Getting words out on to paper enables me to breathe again without the metaphorical hitch in the back of my throat – I can’t scream and rage, I struggle to cry since starting back on medication – how else can I get these feelings out?

I am angry… I am angry that I don’t have a job whilst the person that forced me out still collects his paycheck at the end of the month. I am angry at the state of politics in this country, that the medication that will keep my dog healthy will mean that we will have to be frugal with our money for as long as he lives. I am angry when I watch people I love being taken advantage of, I’m angry at people who claim to be Christians on Twitter post utter nonsense that not only attacks those that already live in the margins, but continues to shatter the concept of real Christianity, for myself and for anyone that reads their hate filled diatribe.

But I cannot get it out. I cannot express it without feeling shame, or without experiencing guilt.

I am sad that my words are once again failing me, that I can’t settle to read a book or that it takes me hours to write what would have taken me moments, because the words I need feel like they are caught up in the tar and I cannot pick them out without becoming exhausted.

I am frustrated that the first, honest, writing from me in weeks is one that is about how my depression is feeling right now, and not how it has felt in the past.

But maybe that’s what’s needed. An acknowledgement of how I truly feel, no pretty neat bows, no fancy words or scientific facts. Just someone admitting that right now, its all a bit hard and that sometimes we all feel a little lost.

Today, I need to be kind to myself. I’ll do some yoga, I’ll take a walk. I may even do some baking this afternoon. The rain is falling steadily outside, and it feels more autumnal than august should. My dog, with his medication working and fur coming back is snoring softly next to me, my husband will be home this evening and the first thing he will do is hold me. I have a roof over my head and food in the cupboards – and I am thankful, so thankful – but that doesn’t mean that my feelings and my depression aren’t valid. That doesn’t mean that I can berate myself for how I feel because it doesn’t fit into the cookie-cutter mould of what I should be feeling in order to make others more comfortable.

And maybe the words will come, maybe the tar will snake back and the heaviness will lift and what will be left will be gleaming pathways with freshly uncovered words for me to play with, but its ok if that doesn’t happen today, or tomorrow, or even this week.

What matters is my breath, in this moment. It’s the things that make my days brighter – my dog, my husband, my friends and my family. It will be hearing the rain patter on my hood or umbrella when I venture out later, and how the flour and butter feel between my fingers as I gently rub them together to make something delicious. It’s the gentle reminders that I will give to myself that this passes, it always passes and the sun will come out again. That every time it happens I come out more battle worn, but always stronger… and that that strength on some days will help others get through days, just like this one.

Am I tying it up in a neat little bow?

Maybe.


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Where The Swings Used To Be

I jotted this down as a note a few weeks ago on my phone. My husband and I had gone up to Gloucestershire to visit my parents for a few days, and on the first evening we took our dog out for a short walk before bed.

If you have read my previous post, you’ll know that my teenage years were a little difficult with school and the bullying that I encountered there. This feels like a good time to share this writing… not only as a follow on from that, but also because I’ve realised that going back to a place can stir up so many different memories, emotions and even behaviours. However, I have also realised that a ‘safe space’ doesn’t always have to be co-ordinates on a map, it can also be a person.

I am very lucky, that my safe person is my husband. I realised when I spent time in Gloucestershire a couple of days ago without him, that I felt very different to how I feel when I am at home in Somerset. He helps to ground me, here in the present. He reminds me – often without words – that I am safe, I am loved and that I am not a scared fourteen year old girl any more.

I still have a lot of healing to do – but I have been with him now for sixteen years. Sixteen years of visiting my parents and not once did I attempt to bring him to this place described below – it was too painful. However, as an adult, with him by my side, with the healing that I have started to do I felt brave enough. However, as you’ll read, it did also stir up a lot of emotion.

This is unedited.

I was going to take him there, to show him the spot where a smaller version of me would sit, and wait

I never knew what for, but I knew where I didn’t want to be, where I couldn’t be, who I couldn’t face, again

Two swings and a slide, bark upon the ground. It was like a little secret area but it wasn’t a secret at all.

My mum once told the woman from the school that I could be anywhere, that I knew those alleyways like the back of my hand… I didn’t know them tonight as a woman. I lost my way, doubled back.

It was gone, all of it. I looked at the house that now stood in its place, it was established.

Nearly 20 years on and I am not established.

Bricks and mortar don’t erase a place. They don’t erase the sadness that a place can hold.

I wonder if when they tuck their children up in bed, they know that a girl once sat in this place because she didn’t know where else to go.

That she was so lost, just 5 minutes from home.

That in 20 years she would hold her husbands hand as she looked for that place, the place that is so vivid in her mind and find that it was long gone.

Just another house, in another cul de sac.

But one full of memories.


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The Impact of Bullying

When I was just a little tot, my family moved into a church building. It wasn’t a typical church – no steeple, or anything like that. It was in fact the old offices of the local electricity board and it looked like a building that wouldn’t seem out of place in soviet Russia.

It was the late eighties – the rooms were big, the floors covered in carpet tiles. Large, corporate, geometric patterns were on the wallpaper and red handrails adorned the main central staircase. Our flat was at the far end of the building, upstairs. I must have been the only child at school that at times wished for a smaller bedroom. But it was our home and my parents made it feel just like that.

Throughout infant and junior school, I don’t recall an awful lot of bullying. I was quiet, but I wasn’t all that different to the other kids. I had a close friend who I had gone to playgroup with and we remained friends throughout those years. I remember not being overly confident when it came to school plays and wanting to be at home rather than at school – but I think that is just the mark of the sensitive, introverted child that I was.

When I moved to senior school though, something shifted. The school was much closer to our home in the church and it wasn’t a nice area. The church itself was well-placed, my parents helped so many people in the local community with food banks, Christmas dinners and just having a ‘safe’ place to go to, at any time. The church building also housed a toddler group, playgroup and café. Local groups met there for woodwork, music, keep fit… it was the community hub that the community needed.

Suddenly though, to my new peers, I was different. Not only was I quiet and sensitive, I also lived in a church and this made me stand out. My friend from junior school moved up to senior school with me, and I though all would be well – we’d stick together, wouldn’t we?

No…

We stayed within the same friendship group, but it wasn’t a healthy one. There was a definite shift in dynamics once we had paired up with two other girls and within a short space of time this caused a definite split between the four of us. It has only been in the last six months in therapy that I have been able to look at this group of the four of us – which did merge into six – objectively. Now I can see the split, 3 girls who had the power and 3 that didn’t.

I don’t know how it happened, not really. There weren’t vast differences between us in the areas that you would think would cause such a drastic change, but once it had happened it was very hard to get back on an even keel. I tried making other friends, but I was quiet and shy and over time my self-esteem took a hefty whack. Who would want to be friends with me? Besides, the moods of these three girls (one in particular) would change from day to day. On Monday I may be left out of everything, called a witch in front of the rest of the class whilst the teacher was out of the room, forced to hand over parts of my lunch, or be told that I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough or clever enough to be part of the group… but then, on Tuesday they could be the best friends that one could wish for.

In adulthood, this is seen as coercive and controlling behaviour, it is recognised very clearly as abuse.

In childhood, its playground banter.

For 5 years, I had this. Day in, day out. It carried on even when our family moved from the church and into a normal house. I didn’t know if I was going into school to see my friends or my tormentors. I got even quieter, I literally and metaphorically, shrunk. I told my parents, after much deliberation and the main bully was brought in from PE to sit in the deputy heads office and apologise… she told me, my parents and the school staff that it was only a joke, that none of it was serious and she couldn’t understand why I was hurt by it. Nothing was done and afterwards she quietly ramped it all up; she was the victim now, someone had told tales on her and I was the tormentor.

I stopped eating normal sized meals for a girl my age and size, how could I eat when my stomach was in knots? I didn’t want to do anything on the weekends or with my family because I knew that if I thought about it whilst at school it would make me want to cry.  I was terrified of not only going to school but also going out in my local area, I started to have panic attacks and my chest hurt constantly from the anxiety. I was admitted to hospital for tests to find out what was wrong with me – it was deemed by the school and by doctors that I had the problem. I saw a child psychologist who would sit and talk to my parents afterwards whilst I tried to read a book in the waiting room. But what could I tell them? I had seen and experienced what happened when she was pulled up on her behaviour and I couldn’t go through that, not again…

Why am I telling you this? Its not for pity, hundreds of thousands of children get bullied at school every year and although specific in its details, my experience is not vastly different from any other. I’m telling you this because I am now 34, I still have blackouts in my memory of school – whole years that I cannot piece together. Since leaving school, I have suffered with anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, nightmares and body dysmorphic disorder which has in turn led to bouts of bulimia and anorexia. I have had various therapies, I have engaged in promiscuous behaviour in order to validate my self-worth, I have found it hard to trust people and I have abandonment issues. I also have Fibromyalgia – which, the causes of which are generally pretty much unknown, but it is thought that the symptoms occur when we have spent vast amounts of time in a ‘fight or flight’ situation.

Image credit: The Mighty

The effects of bullying do not stop once a child leaves school. The effects of sustained bullying can impact whole lives. I do not have a career because of my mental health, and I do not have children either, even though I have dreamed of being a mother for as long as I can remember.

It is only this year – 20 years after I went through these experiences that I recognised, through therapy, that what I had endured constituted trauma. I did not feel safe for years. I wanted to hide and make myself invisible in order the stop the attacks for years. I did not know what to expect every single day for years. I hid my pain from my parents because I couldn’t see the answers or the point in telling them the details for years.  I wanted to do anything to make it stop, including making myself disappear for years.

And then, once I was out of there and away from them, I tried to forget it and move on with my life like any normal person would, for decades.

But it doesn’t work like that. Things have to be dealt with, we cannot just put a lid on it all and expect it to go away. I had been led to believe that my thoughts, feelings and emotions weren’t valid. The norm, for me, was not telling anyone when I was experiencing mental anguish and so therefore when I did get upset, or angry, or depressed, I automatically did not tell anyone and I deemed that normal. I lost my voice and my expression – the only way I had of expressing myself was through writing, and even then I didn’t – and still don’t – want to upset anyone that read it.

I had learnt that if I made myself small, I was ‘safe’. This was founded on nothing, but the wish to disappear but it is still something I aspire to now. It has led to dangerous relationships and damaging friendships with people within the BDSM community where ‘little’ is very often seen as something to aspire to, but not something that will always keep you safe. It has affected my body image, and made me lose even more of my voice and the confidence to express it.

I’ll say it again: The effects of bullying do not stop when a child leaves school.

The voice of the main bully has been replaced with my own; there will be days when the not good enough, pretty enough or clever enough mantra will repeat in my head, in my own voice and I can find all the evidence needed to back those claims up. It becomes very hard to argue against yourself when you have a lifetime of negative associations tied into those claims.

We would be naïve here if we thought that bullying was contained to classrooms and playing fields. It doesn’t just happen to children. It happens to adults too, in workplaces and friendship groups. By colleagues, managers, family members and so-called friends. I have recently left a role where my new manager was a textbook bully – and gaslighter at that. On Friday night, I consoled my colleague who has also just resigned from his management and over the weekend I have felt lost, unheard, sad, angry (I think), unmotivated and very, very low – but I could not put my finger on why.

It was only last night whilst washing up that it came to me – this man, this manager had triggered emotions within me that were felt 20 years ago. Over the last few weeks I have been in fight mode – I quit, I filled out my exit interview form (myself, he didn’t even want my voice to be heard on that), I spoke to friends about it, I felt relieved when my unemployment commenced because I wasn’t in that situation anymore and for a couple of weeks I saw friends, did yoga, made jam, applied for jobs…. all fine and dandy. Until, until I heard about a conversation on Friday where he invalidated my colleague and in invalidating my colleague, he also invalidated the effects of the bullying that led me to quit my job.

He had done exactly what my school bully had done in the deputy heads office all those years ago.

One more time, for those that haven’t quite understood: The effects of bullying do not stop when a child leaves school.

There is a light though, a chink of positivity within all of this – I know how important compassion, inclusivity and validation are. I will never, ever, knowingly exclude someone. I believe firmly in equality and acceptance I will strive to treat everyone the same – regardless of background, gender, wealth, disability or appearance. We all have unique gifts to offer, whether we are quiet or loud or somewhere in between, our voices matter – each and every one of them. I am trying, really trying, with the help of wonderful friends, my husband and my family to realise that I can include myself in that, but at times it is hard. Unpicking decades of ingrained beliefs doesn’t come easy…


If you suspect your child is being bullied, or is the bully then Bulling UK have some wonderful resources that may help.

If you are being bullied, then Relate has some great advice on their website and also offer a confidential chat service.

If you are living with the effects of trauma and its really hard today, then some grounding techniques may help or even some yoga designed with trauma in mind. I did this routine earlier today and it centred around breathing exercises and feeling safe within your body. I can highly recommend it – also, the dog is super cute! 🐶

Original image credit: Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

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